Stratton improved to 10-1 with 6.1 innings of six-hit baseball. MSU pitchers have now recorded 18 quality starts, with nine of those coming from Stratton. The Tupelo native also became the league's first 10-game winner for this season. From an MSU standpoint, Paul Maholm last earned the distinction, when piecing together a 10-3 campaign in 2002.
With the victory, MSU improved to 32-21 overall and 14-14 in league play. The Bulldogs are presently in a four-way tie for sixth place in the overall standings and a three-way tie for second place in the Western Division standings. Former league leader Kentucky fell to 41-13 and 18-10. The Wildcats trail South Carolina by percentage points in the conference standings. South Carolina was rained out Thursday night against LSU.
The Bulldogs have now matched last season's conference win total with Thursday night's victory. MSU won its series opener seven times during 10 league weekends this season.
"This is the game we have to win and this is the manner in which we have to win it - one-run and two-run games with the pitching and defense," MSU head coach John Cohen said. "I thought Strat was very, very good but they did a nice job of covering pitches tonight and shoving them into the outfield."
MSU struck first with two runs in the fourth inning. Trey Porter began things when he reached as a one-out hit batsman. Mitch Slauter followed with a double down the left field line. Brent Brownlee reached as a hit batsman to load the bases. Wes Rea followed with a two-run single back through the left side of the infield. Brownlee was put out on the play but the home folks had given Stratton all the offense he would need.
"For the most part, I thought we took better swings and made them make some plays defensively," Cohen said.
Bouncing back from his first league defeat of the season last week at Florida, Stratton struck out eight and walked none, while giving up only a sixth-inning run. In relief, Ross Mitchell sparkled again. Mitchell retired the first seven batters he faced before a two-out single by UK in the ninth inning. Jonathan Holder needed four pitches for the game-ending strikeout and his fifth save.
Kentucky erased the shutout in the sixth inning. Brian Adams started things with a one-out single. After a lineout, Luke Maile followed with an RBI-double. Stratton got the strikeout to snuff that threat.
In the home half of the sixth inning, the Bulldogs plated a critical insurance score when Sam Frost executed the perfect squeeze bunt, bringing home Slauter, who began the inning with a hit. Rea also had his second hit of the contest in that at-bat, while Brownlee also did his job in the bunting game in that frame.
MSU finished with eight hits, including Rea's 16th multi-hit game and Slauter's ninth multi-hit game. Adam Frazier also had a hit and has reached safely in 43 of the Maroon and White's 53 games this season.
"I think when my swing is where it needs to be, that's what it'll look like," Rea said. "My swing is back and hopefully I can carry this over to the rest of the season."
Kentucky finished with seven hits. Maile and J.T. Riddle each had two hits for the Wildcats. Starting pitcher Taylor Rogers (6-4) was lifted in the sixth inning and took the loss.
"We're as positive as you can be right now," Stratton said. "With a series-opening win, they are in a hole and we got a good one in Kendall Graveman going tomorrow, too. They are a good low-ball hitting team and they were really going down to get them tonight. This was a big win."
The series resumes with a 7:06 p.m. start Friday. SportSouth will have a regional telecast. In pregame ceremonies, MSU senior baseball players Caleb Reed and Brownlee will be honored, as well as managers G.T. McCullough and Tim Statz.