By JOEL COLEMAN
It has taken Mississippi State just two weekends to double the number of Southeastern Conference series wins it had last year.
MSU accomplished that feat on Friday night at Dudy Noble Field as the maroon-and-white-clad Bulldogs overcame being no-hit through the first six innings to ultimately top Georgia 3-1 for Mississippi State’s second win over UGA in as many nights.
MSU, who won just one SEC series a year ago, has now claimed the first two such series of 2016. It’s just the second time in Mississippi State head coach John Cohen’s eight-year tenure that his Bulldogs have won their first two league series.
“It’s always big to win (the first two SEC series),” MSU head coach John Cohen said. “But all of our 30 SEC games matter. Every pitch matters, and our kids are doing a great job with that.”
Georgia starting pitcher Robert Tyler put forth his best effort on Friday to even this weekend’s three-game set as he didn’t allow an MSU hit through the first six innings. Tyler did walk six batters, which served to raise his pitch count to 107 and force Georgia to remove him from the game entering the seventh inning.
“(Tyler) is just phenomenal and his stuff is electric,” Cohen said. “He’s got a very bright future.
“When a guy is that dominant and then he’s not in the ballgame anymore, there is a sense of relief.”
With MSU down 1-0 at the time of Tyler’s exit, Mississippi State was able to break through against Georgia reliever Drew Moody. John Holland’s one-out infield single ignited a two-run rally that saw MSU ultimately surge ahead for good.
After Holland’s hit, Elih Marrero delivered a pinch-hit single of his own to put MSU runners on the corners. Jacob Robson followed with a grounder to third, but Georgia third baseman L.J. Talley threw the ball into right field trying to get a force out at second. That allowed Holland to score and tie the game.
Two batters later, Nathaniel Lowe laced a run-scoring single to right field that put Mississippi State up 2-1.
“I had to fight off pitches (earlier in the night) against Tyler,” Lowe said. “I missed some pitches against him and got frustrated, but I’m glad it all worked out in the end.”
MSU added an insurance run in the the eighth inning. Reid Humphreys led off the frame with a walk before coming around to score the game’s final run on a Cody Brown RBI single.
All the late offense spared Austin Sexton from suffering a tough-luck loss. Sexton left the game after the sixth inning trailing 1-0. He allowed just six hits and three walks. Sexton struck out six. The only damage he incurred came in the sixth when Georgia loaded the bases with no one out before limiting UGA to just one run on a sacrifice fly from Talley.
“(Sexton) battled and matched Tyler pitch for pitch,” Cohen said.
Ryan Rigby got the win for MSU as he pitched the final three innings and allowed just one hit.
Rigby and Sexton were both aided by the defensive plays of second baseman John Holland. Holland had nine total assists in the game including a highlight-reel dive and throw from shallow right field in the eighth inning and an impressive play to his backhand side one batter later.
“I was just ready for my chances,” Holland said.
The Mississippi State victory improved its record to 17-6-1 overall and 4-1 in SEC play. Georgia fell to 14-10 and 1-4.
Mississippi State will go for the sweep Saturday. First pitch from Dudy Noble Field is set for 2 p.m.