STARKVILLE, Miss. - A wild baseball weekend on the Mississippi State campus ended on a wild pitch.
Matthew Britton sprinted home with the game-winning run on a wild pitch as the Bulldogs held off the Tennessee Volunteers 3-2 in a 14-inning thriller, which put a cap on the baseball portion of Super Bulldog Weekend.
MSU completed its first three-game conference series sweep of the season before a cowbell-clanging crowd of 9,233 at Dudy Noble Field. The Bulldogs have taken three straight series from the Volunteers and have also won the last eight meetings.
The Bulldogs improved to 24-16 overall and 8-10 in league play, while the Volunteers feel to 22-18 and 7-11. MSU has won three of its last four home games in walk-off fashion. After playing 11 innings Thursday night, MSU and UT decided to go even longer Saturday and wound up playing the longest game in 77 career meetings. MSU is now an amazing 6-1 all-time in extra innings against UT.
"We have been needing a weekend like this," said Britton, the MSU second baseman. "This team has played hard all year. Sometimes, the breaks have not gone our ways. However, we have stayed confident. We believe in each other and we keep working hard. That hard work paid off this weekend. We have four series left and we have to keep this momentum up."
MSU pitching turned in a masterful performance the entire weekend. In 34 innings of work, the Bulldog hurlers allowed 20 hits and four earned runs for a 1.02 earned run average. Nine pitchers combined to strike out 27 batters and walk only eight.
"I really can't say enough about our pitching staff this weekend," MSU head coach John Cohen said. "They did an amazing job of competing their tails off. The pitchers commanded the strike zone and didn't back down from the challenge."
For MSU, Evan Mitchell drew his second pitching start this season. Ross Mitchell worked the Bulldogs out of a tight spot in the fourth inning and was lifted during a similar situation in the sixth inning. Jonathan Holder and Taylor Stark followed, before giving way to Caleb Reed.
Reed worked around two hits and one walk in 3.1 innings of shutout work. Tennessee's inability to bunt effectively, as well as two players being retired at the plate proved critical. Ben Bracewell worked MSU out of a tight spot in the 11th inning, before Luis Pollorena (2-0) threw three innings of shutout relief to garner the win.
Down 2-0, the Bulldogs pulled even in the sixth inning on a two-run single by Britton. The true freshman was on his way to his best day in the Maroon and White. Britton had three hits, reached on a walk and played errorless defense with seven attempts in the field.
"It was good to have an opportunity to help my team," Britton said. "We play a lot of close games so you have to stay ready. You never know when your at-bat is going to be the big one in the game."
Britton walked and was stranded at second base in the ninth inning. In the 11th inning, MSU had runners at first and third but could not bring home the game-winner.
Tennessee closer Nick Blount (2-3) entered and a got a double play ball to snuff the Bulldogs in the 10th inning. After working around the tight spot in the 11th, Blount overcame a leadoff single in the 12th inning before posting six straight outs.
Things changed in the 14th inning when Britton started things with an infield hit. Sam Frost advanced Britton on a bunt. After Adam Frazier drew an intentional walk, Mitch Slauter hit a ground ball which resulted in no outs when the UT shortstop hit a base runner with his throw to third base.
Britton scored one pitch later with the game-winner.
MSU finished with eight hits, including a multi-hit game by C.T. Bradford.
Tennessee finished with 11 hits, including multi-hits by Davis Morgan, Jared Allen and Parker Wormsley. Starting pitcher Nick Williams allowed five hits and two runs (both earned) in six innings of work. Drew Steckenrider followed before giving way to Blount with one out in the 10th inning.
The Bulldogs return to Central Mississippi for its second contest at Trustmark Park Tuesday night. MSU faces in-state foe Southern Mississippi in the lone 2012 meeting between the rivals. Game time is set for 6:30 p.m.
MSU then returns to SEC play with another home series against fellow in-state rival Ole Miss. The Bulldogs and Rebels will play at 7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday.