STARKVILLE — Luke Hancock glared deep into the Starkville night.
He’d already sent Tulane home packing with a walk-off grand slam in February. He didn’t clear the fences Friday, but a long fly ball did the trick.
Notching his fourth sac fly of the weekend and second of the night, Hancock plated Rowdey Jordan with a deep flyout to right center field in the eighth inning to give MSU (19-7, 4-4 SEC) a narrow 3-2 win and a series-clinching victory over Kentucky (18-6, 5-3 SEC) Friday.
“I love going up there with the game on the line,” Hancock said postgame. “I’ve loved doing that since I was a kid. Just go up there, do what you do every single plate appearance. Don’t think about the situation. Just try to hit the ball hard somewhere and do whatever you can.”
Fresh off Christian MacLeod’s 11-strikeout evening Thursday, Bulldog starter Will Bednar flashed the wiffle ball-esque slider that has scouts drooling over his potential early in the affair.
Bednar fooled five of the first six batters of the night completely. Wildcats No. 6 hitter Chase Estep made things marginally more interesting when he grounded out to short to end the second inning.
The trend, though, promptly returned.
Bednar fanned Ryan Ritter on three pitches. Cam Hill at least made contact, flying out to left field to cap Kentucky’s first time through the order.
Ten Wildcat batters stepped to the dish in the first three innings. Three made contact. Bednar struck out the rest, needing just 36 pitches to get through the order once.
Admittedly, Friday’s outing wasn’t perfect. Rather, it briefly echoed back to when Bednar was tagged for five runs — four earned — against No. 2 Arkansas last weekend.
Hanging a pitch over the middle of the plate in the fourth inning, T.J. Collett made Bednar pay for the mistake with a two-run homer to dead-center field.
Bednar responded with two more strikeouts to end the frame.
“We’re still working because the last two weeks he kind of got beat by their best player,” MSU head coach Chris Lemonis said. “… He’s so confident in his stuff, there’ not a lot of fear in him. We’ve just got to make a couple more pitches.”
Two innings later, Bednar worked himself into a one-out jam with runners on the corners. Following a brief mound visit from pitching coach Scott Foxhall, the Pennsylvania native struck out Reuben Church on three pitches.
One batter later, Bednar induced an inning-ending groundout to shortstop Lane Forsythe.
“I thought the stuff was great” Lemonis continued, “and then late in the game the competitiveness was great getting (Oraj) Anu out there late to get us out of the inning.”
Behind Bednar, Cameron Tullar pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning before turning things over to fireballer Landon Sims.
Strutting onto the mound as the tones of Whitesnake’s “Still of the Night” blared around Dudy Noble Field, Sims picked up where Bednar and Tullar left off.
Sims first struck out Austin Schultz on back-to-back-to-back 96 mph fastballs. A web gem stab and throw from Forsythe followed. Sims then shut the door in the eighth, blowing past John Rhodes for his second strikeout of the night.
In the ninth, Sims’ outing grew increasingly dicey after a Collett single and a misplay by Forsythe on an easy pop-up put runners on first and second with one out.
Looking around the infield, Sims commanded a calmness about his defense. The game was on him, he said postgame, and he needed one more play to end it.
Delivering his first pitch to Estep, Sims snagged a rocketed grounder toward the mound and flipped it to second to start a game ending 1-6-3 double play.
As the ball smacked into first baseman Josh Hatcher’s hit, Sims stepped off the bump, knelt and forcefully threw a handful of fist pumps.
For the first time this season, MSU left Dudy Noble Field with a series victory over an SEC foe.
“I’ve (played) in front of these fans a few times now and going out there and hearing my walk out song and then hearing fans get a little bit louder — it’s a really cool thing,” Sims said. “There’s probably not many places in the country that can beat being on the mound at The Dude.”