By JOEL COLEMAN
Mississippi State did what Missouri couldn’t on Friday night. In the end, it made all the difference.
After Missouri wasted an opportunity to blow the game open with the bases loaded and no one out in the sixth inning, No. 4 MSU cashed in for a pair of runs when given the same opportunity in the bottom of the eighth to secure a come-from-behind, 4-3 victory over the Tigers at Dudy Noble Field.
MSU starting pitcher Austin Sexton and Missouri starter Tanner Houck matched each other pitch for pitch though most of the contest, but in the end, it was the Bulldogs claiming their seventh Southeastern Conference series win of the season.
“(Houck) was really good,” MSU first baseman Nathaniel Lowe said. “We just had to get to a point to where we could capitalize on mistakes. Real early in the game, he didn’t make a lot of mistakes so we had to grind him down and get his pitch count up and we got runs across at the right time.”
Houck took the loss for Missouri (24-24, 7-16) after going 7 1/3 innings and allowing eight hits and four runs. Sexton captured the win for State (32-14-1, 14-9) by allowing just four hits and three runs in eight-plus innings.
The Bulldogs’ late surge was fueled by the guile of Sexton. MSU fell behind 2-0 in the top of the third when Sexton allowed a two-run double to Missouri’s Jake Ring. The Tigers were in prime opportunity to put the Bulldogs in an even bigger hole in the sixth when Missouri put its first three batters of the frame on base.
Sexton wasn’t phased by the jam. The junior right-hander induced a harmless pop up to shortstop, recorded a strikeout, then got a groundout to third to end the threat.
“I was honestly just trying to get a ground ball or soft contact to limit the damage,” Sexton said of the situation. “Luckily I got under a barrel and got a pop up and then the rest happened. It was pretty cool.”
Sexton’s escape act served as the first chapter of MSU’s comeback story. In the bottom of the sixth, Gavin Collins had a one-out single and later scored when Elih Marrero’s potential inning-ending grounder to short was booted.
An inning later, the Bulldogs evened things at 2-2 when Lowe’s two-out double chased home Jake Mangum.
Finally, in the eighth, State surged ahead. Jacob Robson and Cody Brown singled to open the inning. Marrero then walked to load the bags. Ryan Gridley and John Holland each followed with sacrifice flies to put Mississippi State on top 4-2.
Sexton traced everything back to getting out of his sixth-inning mess.
“Baseball is a game of momentum,” Sexton said. “After that, the guys were excited. That’s tough to do, get out of a bases loaded (situation), but we made some pitches and made some defensive plays and the guys rallied around that and took some good at-bats in those last four innings and did a wonderful job.”
Missouri did push across a ninth inning run and had a chance to do more damage, but Reid Humphreys and Daniel Brown closed things out with Brown notching the save.
The win now gives MSU yet another chance to record a sweep in an SEC series. For the fifth time this year, the Bulldogs have won the first two games of an SEC set. They’ll try to finally break out the brooms today when Konnor Pilkington takes the mound in a 4 p.m. game.
“We’ve got to take advantage of this and get the job done,” Sexton said. “It’s a close race in the SEC right now so we’ve got to take advantage of this and I think we’ve got a good shot with Konnor going (Saturday).”