STARKVILLE — Ryan Gridley was ready for a rebound after a loss to South Alabama on Tuesday that Mississippi State baseball coach Andy Cannizaro thought was littered with uninspired effort.
No. 11 MSU had to wait four innings for it.
A three-run fifth inning gave MSU a lead it never relinquished thanks to the bullpen that threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings in a 6-5 victory against Alabama in Game 1 of a three-game Southeastern Conference weekend series.
MSU (26-14, 11-5 SEC) scraped together three runs in the first four innings aided by walks, an error, and a sacrifice fly, but Gridley saw the floodgates open when Alabama (15-23, 2-14) went to the bullpen to relieve starter Dylan Duarte.
“I think they were working away, trying to get ahead and spinning late in the count,” said Gridley, MSU’s shortstop. “They started bringing their back half guys and we started getting to them. Once we scored those three, that was the game-changer.”
Gridley kick-started the fifth with a one-out single. Elijah MacNamee drew a two-out walk that sent Alabama to the bullpen. Catcher Josh Lovelady then singled to score Gridley and a throwing error allowed MacNamee to score. Third baseman Harrison Bragg followed with a double that scored Lovelady.
Bragg was making his first start in the field since March 19, the finale of the SEC opener at Arkansas, in place of Luke Alexander, who has started there in all but four of MSU’s 39 games.
“Just wanted to see if we could get a spark out of that spot,” Cannizaro said. “(Alexander) has done a tremendous job for us all year. I kind of feel like things were kind of speeding up on him in SEC play. (Alexander) and I had a terrific conversation (Wednesday) after practice. I’m not giving up on him, I haven’t lost confidence in him. This is simply to take a breather, watch for a little bit, let the game slow down, and catch his breath. He’s going to be back out there soon.”
Riley Self is another Bulldog who will be seen again soon. Self entered the game to start the eighth, retired all three batters he faced and then retired the leadoff batter of the ninth. After recording a swinging strike to go up 1-2 on the next batter, Cannizaro replaced him with closer Spencer Price after 13 pitches.
“I felt like as he kept going and kept going, he started to reach that barrier where he might not be able to come back tomorrow,” Cannizaro said. “We wanted to shut him down right around that 15-pitch mark so he could help us win a ballgame tomorrow.”
Price allowed two hits but he recorded the final two outs for his nation-best 14th save. He is on pace to break the single-season school record (21) set by Jonathan Holder, now with the New York Yankees, in 2013.
Price, a sophomore, also could break the school’s career record for saves of 37 set by Holder.
Trysten Barlow threw 1 1/3 innings and allowed a walk.
n NOTES: Rain in the forecast for Saturday prompted MSU to schedule a doubleheader for 4 p.m. today. The second game will begin 40 minutes after the first one ends. Cannizaro said the team’s pitching plans haven’t changed. Cole Gordon will start the first game and Jacob Billingsley will start the second.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson