TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — After a questionable interference call took Kellum Clark off the basepaths and wiped out two Mississippi State runs in the top of the fifth inning Saturday at Alabama, the Bulldogs quickly put the setback behind them.
Shortstop Lane Forsythe promptly hit an RBI single to start a four-run rally that put Mississippi State up 4-3, and the Bulldogs (40-13, 20-10 Southeastern Conference) added three more runs in the sixth to sweep the Crimson Tide (29-22, 12-17) with a 7-3 win at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.
“Today we got down early and then just kept fighting, kept hitting balls hard,” first baseman Luke Hancock said. “That’s really all you can do in baseball: just hit the ball hard and just hope that they find a hole.”
Time after time, the Bulldogs did. Forsythe’s soft liner cleared the Alabama shortstop and dropped into short left-center, and Rowdey Jordan hit a two-run single in the sixth to push Mississippi State’s lead to four.
Add in a few costly Alabama errors, and the Bulldogs were happy to take what the Tide gave them all afternoon. After Clark reached on an error to start the sixth, catcher Sam Praytor allowed Tanner Leggett’s bunt to drop fair and threw wildly to first when Forsythe too dropped down a sacrifice. The errant throw put men on second and third for Jordan, who scored both with his base hit to right.
“Just being able to put some pressure on them, being able to make them make some really big pressure plays, and we got a couple — I guess you could call them gifts — there that let us get that inning going,” Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis said.
The Bulldogs turned to Houston Harding out of the bullpen to help them wrap up the regular season with a victory. The left-hander came on for Jackson Fristoe after two innings, allowed a leadoff single in the third and proceeded to wipe out the next 15 Tide batters.
Harding finished with 5.2 innings of scoreless relief after loading the bases in the eighth before Preston Johnson recorded the final out.
“It’s huge for us for him to come out of the pen like that and just give us long relief innings, which we needed today,” Hancock said.
Harding threw just 44 pitches in his first five innings of work, facing the minimum thanks to a third-inning double play. He said he was happy to pump the strike zone against an Alabama club more than willing to swing.
“The more aggressive they are, the happier I’m going to be when I can get them to pop up and roll over,” Harding said. “That usually is a good sign.”
He proved to be the Bulldogs’ stopper after two hits and three walks spelled Fristoe’s exit after two innings. The freshman allowed a two-run single to Zane Denton in the first inning, and Peyton Wilson added a run on a groundout in the second.
But Mississippi State eventually battled back against one-time Bulldogs commit Connor Shamblin. Scotty Dubrule and Clark led off the inning with singles before Leggett bounced a soft grounder toward shortstop. The ball snuck through as both runners scored, but since Clark was in the base paths near — but hardly affecting — the play, he was ruled out on interference as Dubrule was sent back to third base and Leggett given first.
Lemonis came out to argue with the umpiring crew but to no avail. He was vindicated when Forsythe’s single brought home the Bulldogs’ first run and again when Rowdey Jordan was hit by a pitch and Tanner Allen’s groundout to second scored Leggett.
Logan Tanner and Hancock drew walks, tying the game at 3-all. James plated the go-ahead run on an error by Jim Jarvis at third.
It wasn’t Jarvis’ only miscue. Clark led off the sixth on another error charged to the Alabama third baseman before Leggett and Forsythe dropped down bunts and Jordan drove both home.
Johnson put out the fire in the eighth before Landon Sims pitched a scoreless ninth in his second appearance of the weekend.
“He’s a dog out there on the mound,” Hancock said of Sims. “I’m just glad he’s on our team.”
Sims wrapped up the sweep for a Mississippi State team that secured a top-four seed and thus a first-round bye in the SEC tournament earlier Saturday with No. 4 Tennessee’s win over No. 21 South Carolina. The Bulldogs will await their assignment Wednesday in Hoover, Alabama.
“We’ll just go over there and compete and try to bring an SEC championship back to Starkville,” Hancock said.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.