STARKVILLE — Andy Cannizaro called his third baseman Luke Alexander in for a meeting that could have easily gotten volatile.
Alexander was a .324 hitter as Mississippi State entered its Southeastern Conference baseball schedule in mid-March; in the six weeks that had passed since then and before hosting Alabama this weekend, Alexander’s average had dropped down to .250. Cannizaro thought the answer was time off, so he told Alexander he would be starting Harrison Bragg in his place and his reasoning for it.
Alexander took it as well as anyone could — then he proved his coach right when he came back.
After sitting out the first two games of the series against the Crimson Tide (15-25, 2-16 SEC), Alexander took over as a pinch hitter in the fifth inning of the second game of Friday’s doubleheader; he went on to hit a game-tying home run in the sixth and hit into an error that extended the game in the 11th before winning it with a single in the 13th. The 13-12 win gave MSU (28-14, 13-5) the sweep after winning the first half of the doubleheader 4-3.
Cannizaro promised earlier in the weekend Alexander would return to the lineup soon, and that flash of potential showed why.
“He did a tremendous job of staying ready, not quitting, not putting his head down,” Cannizaro said. “He was a tremendous teammate in those two games, and when his number is called, he obviously hits a home run and gets the game-winning hit.”
Alexander’s home run in the sixth was part of a complete reversal from the five innings before it, in which MSU was held hitless and scoreless; in the sixth inning alone, MSU tallied nine runs on seven hits, four of them for extra bases. Alexander’s home run, a two-run shot, tied the game at five.
“I saw the first pitch was a curveball, watched it, and the second pitch, I swung over it,” Alexander said.
“I had a good feeling he was going to come back with a curveball, so I sat back on it and got a hold of it.”
Alabama went on to score four more runs to force extra innings and looked poised to put the game away after scoring three in the top of the 11th. Alexander, with the bases loaded, hit a short popup just in front of the mound; Alabama pitcher Davis Vainer fell over trying to field the ball, committing an error that scored the tying run.
Alexander’s next at-bat wouldn’t require such luck, as he ripped a bases-loaded single up the middle to score the winning run with ease.
The revival of Alexander in the second half of Friday’s doubleheader was coupled with another new development: the emergence of outfielder Brant Blaylock as a pitcher. After pitching an inning against South Alabama on Tuesday, Blaylock took to the mound again Friday as MSU ran out of bullpen arms to use in the extra innings.
Blaylock ultimately earned the win, pitching 2 2/3 scoreless innings with just one hit allowed.
“He always told me he could pitch, but I didn’t believe him because I’ve never seen him pitch and I’ve played with him for a while,” Alexander said.
Truth be told, Blaylock was curious whether he could do it against an SEC lineup, too. He was throwing a lot of fastballs, he said, but it was one breaking ball in particular that proved he belonged.
“It was the strikeout to (Alabama right fielder) Chandler Taylor, it was a breaking ball. After that, I kind of realized I can actually do that,” he said. “That got me a lot of confidence and I think I did a good job of carrying that through the game.”
MSU won the first game of the doubleheader 4-3. Peyton Plumlee pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings in relief to earn the win and Riley Self finished with a five-out save, retiring every batter he faced and striking out four of them.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter, @Brett_Hudson