TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Saturday’s first loss was tough for John Cohen to take.
The Mississippi State baseball coach saw his team take a lead into the bottom of the ninth inning of the first game of a double header against Alabama. But the Crimson Tide got a walk-off RBI single from Chance Vincent to take the victory.
The second game was going to test the Bulldogs, but they held steady. Konnor Pilkington threw a career-high 5 2/3 innings and struck out a career-high seven to help No. 3 MSU beat Alabama 2-1 in a shortened seven-inning game at Sewell-Thomas Stadium to take its fourth Southeastern Conference series on the road.
“We have some really competitive kids and Pilkington’s one of those guys. He wants the baseball,” Cohen said.
The Bulldogs (30-14-1, 12-9 SEC) lost 4-3 in nine innings in game one.
Pilkington (2-1) cruised through the first five innings, allowing one hit and two walks. He gave up a leadoff single to Georgie Salem in the sixth, but got a groundout and a strikeout. He then allowed an RBI single to Vincent to cut the lead in half. He was lifted for Daniel Brown, who got the final out in the sixth and pitched a 1-2-3 seventh to pick up his first save.
Pilkington allowed three hits and issued two walks. The freshman left-hander said in a way it felt like his best outing, but he called it “just another outing.” He did a good job handling the hangover of the first game.
“The first game was, I wouldn’t say emotional, but it was a little tough on us,” Pilkington said. “It didn’t affect the way I thought about the next game or the way I thought about my start. I was just going to go out there and compete.”
Pilkington, who has started the last four SEC finales, feels like he is getting more comfortable with pitching at the Division I level with each start. Pilkington mixed his slider and fastball, something he said he is beginning to do more of.
Junior left fielder Reid Humphreys said the team had full confidence in Pilkington.
“Pilkington went out there and really set the tone for us,” Humphreys said. “We were proud of him. He’s done a great job ever since he’s got into that Sunday/Saturday role. He’s done a great job putting us in position to win.”
Humphreys brought home Brent Rooker, who reached on an error, with a single to right field in the second. Humphreys later scored on a single from Ryan Gridley.
MSU had a 45-minute turnaround from game one to game two, but spirits were high in the dugout and the Bulldogs were ready to put the loss behind them.
“We didn’t really change our outlook just because they got a walk-off,” Humphreys said. “We knew we were in position to win the game and we weren’t worried about anything else.”
Humphreys was the only Bulldog with multiple hits (two) in game two. Jack Kruger and Gavin Collins both had two hits in the first game.
The Bulldogs took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth in game one, but allowed four walks before Vincent’s walk-off hit. Zac Houston began the inning with a four-pitch walk to to nine-hole hitter Daniel Cucjen. Ryan Cyr (1-1) came in and got an out on a sacrifice bunt but walked Salem on four pitches. Paul Young entered and walked Cobie Vance to load the bases with one out. Blake Smith took over for Young and fell behind Chandler Taylor 3-0 before throwing a strike. He walked him on the next pitch.
No one was warming up in the bullpen when Smith entered and they stuck with him. He got ahead 1-2 on Vincent but Vincent bounced a ball up the middle and the drawn in infield couldn’t field it. Salem scored form third and the Crimson Tide raced to surround Vincent.
The final four Bulldog pitchers (Houston, Cry, Young and Smith) threw seven strikes in 25 pitches. The Bulldogs issued 10 walks, including six in the last two innings. The Crimson Tide (25-20, 10-11) had seven hits and two from the fifth inning on.
“The common denominator with all those arms was they just kept missing big with arm side,” Cohen said. “Your delivery’s not where it needs to be when you’re missing arm side. That’s why we kept going to the next guy to see if he could throw to his glove hand side and challenge the strike zone.”
MSU took the lead in the top of the ninth on an RBI sacrifice fly out by Ryan Gridley. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the fourth on a two-run triple by Humphreys. The Crimson Tide tied it at 2 in the home half of the fourth with an RBI groundout by Keith Holcombe and an RBI double by Will Haynie. Bulldog starter Austin Sexton got a 2-2 count on Haynie but he was lifted for Jacob Billingsley.
Cohen said the scouting report said that Haynie needed to see spin and Billingsley has the best spin on the team. Billinglsey got Haynie to foul off a pitch before he roped one to deep center that bounced off the wall.
MSU doesn’t have a midweek game and play host to Missouri this weekend.
The Bulldogs have won six of their first seven SEC series, but have yet to record a sweep.
“The first game is something that’s really going to haunt us because we really felt like we had a chance to sweep a pretty good Alabama club here in Tuscaloosa,” Cohen said.
n In other baseball news, Cohen said freshman infielder Luke Alexander has a cracked wrist.
He started both games but was pulled after an error in the second game. Cohen said the substitution wasn’t because of the error but because of the injury.
Cohen said freshman infielder Hunter Stovall (knee) will be out 4-6 weeks. He said there is no ligament damage and he expects Stovall to make a full recovery. Stovall left Thursday’s game after a collision with Alabama first baseman Cody Henry.
Junior outfielder Jacob Robson (hand) started both games and went 0-for-5 with one walk and two strikeouts. Robson pinch ran against Louisiana-Monroe April 20, but his last start game against Ole Miss April 3.
MSU’s regular closer Humphreys said his arm was sore and he didn’t fee like he could pitch.
“We’re a little battle weary right now. Our kids need to get some good rest,” Cohen said.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.
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