COLUMBIA, Mo. – Mississippi State took delight in working a few extra hours on the holiday weekend.
Winning its second extra-inning contest of the weekend, the Bulldogs used a two-RBI single by Reid Humphreys in the top half of the 11th inning to get past Missouri 9-7 in the final game of a three-game Easter weekend Southeastern Conference series at Taylor Stadium.
MSU improved to 26-15 overall and 10-8 in league play. The Bulldogs are in third place in the Western Division standings and stand both two games back in the division and overall conference races. Fresh off a series win over nationally-ranked Kentucky, Missouri dropped to 17-21 and 6-12.
MSU has now won four of six conference series this year but it was the first sweep by the Maroon and White. The Bulldogs took all three games in a road series for the first time since doing that at Texas A&M last season.
“We fought or tails off,” MSU head coach John Cohen said. “Down four runs late and the kids just found a way. We had some quality at-bats and the pitchers did their job. We just really competed and played hard the entire series.”
MSU improved to 4-0 in extra-inning games by winning for the second time in 11 innings in this series. The Bulldogs and Tigers have now played four times under the SEC banner with three of the four going extra innings and all four going into the Bulldog victory column.
“We really needed something good to happen,” Cohen said. “I would be distraught to be in the other dugout and to lose two 11-inning games. In this league, it comes down to the little things. Most games are a coin flip when the league is this bunched. We feel fortunate. It was really important to come out and get the third game, even though we had won the series.”
An already stretched bullpen got a huge lift from senior right-hander Ben Bracewell. In what matched his second-longest outing of the year, Bracewell threw six innings, allowing five hits and one run (earned), with seven strikeouts and two walks. Jacob Lindgren got the final out for his third save.
“We just asked Ben to go out there and throw up some zeroes,” Cohen said, “We wanted him to give our offense a chance and he was magnificent.”
Junior right-hander Brandon Woodruff drew the start and battled for 4.1 innings. Woodruff allowed seven hits and five runs (all earned), with two strikeouts and two walks.
MSU grabbed the early 1-0 lead on Brett Pirtle’s first home run of the season. The lead would be short-lived as Missouri scored twice in the home half of the first inning.
The Bulldogs battled back for the equalizer in the fourth inning when Pirtle doubled and scored on an RBI-single by C.T. Bradford. The lead shifted sides in the fifth inning when Matthew Britton collected one of his three hits and scored a sacrifice fly by Alex Detz.
Missouri responded by chasing Woodruff during a four-run fifth inning. Back-to-back hits and a hit batsman loaded the bases for the Tigers. In relief, Myles Gentry was touched for a sacrifice fly by Dillon Everett and a two-run double by Ryan Howard. Bracewell followed and gave up an RBI-single by Kendall Keeton.
The Tigers tacked on another run in the sixth inning before the Bulldogs went to work.
MSU chipped away with an RBI-single from Seth Heck in the seventh inning and an RBI-double by Demarcus Henderson in the eighth inning. The big blow came in the ninth inning when C.T. Bradford ripped a game-tying two-run single after Pirtle had singled and Heck reached base on one of two Missouri errors.
By that time, Bracewell was in a groove and it was just a matter of time until the Bulldogs found a way to close the deal.
“Everybody kept battling the whole game,” Cohen said. “You have a guy like Reid Humphreys who just waits patiently for his opportunity and then delivers. C.T. Bradford had clutch at-bat after clutch at-bat. Matthew Britton has three hits. That will do wonders for his confidence.
“It was like a heavyweight fight. It was just a matter of who was going to fall over first.”
MSU finished with 15 hits, including three-hit games by Britton and Pirtle. Heck, Bradford, Humphreys and Henderson had multiple hits.
Missouri finished with 13 hits, including a four-hit afternoon by Logan Pearson. Peter Fairbanks (3-4) pitched the final 2.2 innings and took the loss.
MSU remains on the road for Tuesday night’s Governor’s Cup matchup with Ole Miss. Game time is set for 6:30 p.m. at Trustmark Park in Pearl. SEC play resumes next weekend when Texas A&M comes to Dudy Noble Field. The Bulldogs and Aggies play at 6:30 p.m. Thursday (ESPNU), 6:30 p.m. Friday and 2:15 p.m. Saturday (FSN South).