Eighth-Inning Outburst Gives State 8-5 Win

Cody Freeman watching his home run

A pair of Saturday appearances belied his otherwise-sterling season. But the third time was indeed the charm for Caleb Reed. Entering with one out, two on bases, and the tying Alabama runner at the plate in Sunday's last inning, the Bulldog reliever got one last opportunity and saved a 8-5 victory for Mississippi State.

"I really wanted that third chance," said Reed. "That's what I told the coaches last night, and what I told the coaches this morning."

Not just in pregame either, but all during the afternoon contest as Alabama would build a lead and the Bulldogs chip away at it. So when his catcher Cody Freeman slugged a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning for a game-turning two-run lead, Reed again approached his coaches.

"I knew I was ready to do it and that was my job," he said. Not that he had to go far to inform Coach John Cohen again. "Caleb is standing right next to us keeping the chart, he's like ‘hey, let me pitch, I know I'll throw it in the strike zone, I don't know how much I have left but I'll throw it in the strike zone'."

He did. After Daryl Norris put on a pair around the first out of Alabama's ninth, Reed ran to the hill to fly-out Brett Booth and strike out Brandt Hendricks. Looking, on a 2-2 fastball away and down. Reed admitted relief, so to speak, when ump Paul Guillie stuck out the left hand.

"It was great to see, it was a good pitch and I believe it was a strike. Cody did a great job framing it up for me." It was Reed's eighth save of the season, tying him for the 6th-best relief year by any Bulldog; and came the day after he absorbed an official loss in game-one and allowed the go-ahead run across in game-two. Both were 5-4 scores in favor of Alabama, who still took the series and improved to 28-19 and 10-11 SEC which ties them with Arkansas for the Western Division lead.

Saving a split did keep the Bulldogs (25-18, 8-13 SEC) fifth in the West, a game up on LSU now but still just a single series behind the rest of this bewildering Division. "Today was big, for sure," said Freeman. "We're not going to hang our heads about yesterday but we would have liked to had at least one of those."

Mississippi State got one off Alabama in no small way due to Freeman, with his team's biggest bat of the day. Ironically the senior catcher should have gotten credit for a home run in the first inning. His one-out long fly was hard-chased by Tide leftfielder Andrew Miller, who at some point made contact with the glove before crashing into the fence and injuring his left shoulder. Fans in the outfield, and even Bulldogs in the bullpen, vowed the drive had gone beyond the fence and ricocheted off a grill and back into the field of play.

"I didn't really see it, I was running it out. Wes Thigpen was in the bullpen and said it went out, so…" Freeman shrugged. He'd settled for a double and didn't score that time. In the bottom of the eight things went much differently and better as State tried building on seventh-inning momentum that had brought them two runs closer, for a 5-4 scoreboard. Ironically, the same final score of both Saturday games.

It didn't stay there this time. RF Jaron Shepherd chipped a fly ball into short leftfield that fell in front of the substitute defender…who himself fell down so Shepherd could get to second base unchallenged. Freshman Taylor Stark was pinch-batted to bunt, as Alabama recognized; and pitcher Adam Windsor fielded it just fine. But he double-clutched and overthrew the first baseman, so the already scooting Shepherd could turn and burn his way home for the tying run.

CF C.T. Bradford was also bunting and this one went routinely enough with Stark getting into scoring position. Of course he would have scored from any base when Freeman unloaded over leftfield at the expense of new Tide pitcher Josh Rosecrans.

"It was a fastball," he said. And, much more satisfying than the shot he wasn't credited with way back in the opening inning. "Solo home runs are rally killers anyway!" Freeman joked. Even his coach could smile a bit, since the catcher had followed batting instructions in that one-out, one-on, tie game situation…as well as the prevailing wind carrying to leftfield.

"He walked to the plate and I said this ball is not going to the right side, just stand on top of the plate and get the barrel on it, I don't care if you hit it in our dugout," Cohen said. "And he had a really nice approach."

3B Jarrod Parks kept the inning going, too, with a double to the right-centerfield gap. 2B Nick Vickerson singled and Rosecrans was lifted for Brett Whitaker. He struck out SS Jonathan Ogden, but on 1-2 to 1B Ryan Collins bounced his pitch off the dish and into the dugout scoring Parks and staking State's bullpen to the sufficient three-run margin.

Windsor (3-1) took the loss on 1.0 official relief innings, with two runs on the one big hit. Only one was earned thanks to right-fielding errors. Alabama started Taylor Wolfe who for 5.2 innings maintained a lead spotted before he ever toed the rubber. His line finished at two runs on seven hits, a walk and five strikeouts.

Bulldog Evan Mitchell, second pitcher of the day, earned the decision not just by right-timing. The righthander ground his way through 3.2 tough middle-innings in relief of starter Kendall Graveman, surviving repeated Tide opportunities to blow the game open. Mitchell (4-1) had a run on two hits, five walks and two strikeouts, as well as a throwing error on a pickoff that set up the last Alabama score.

"I just came in after Kendall and wanted to keep us in the game and keep throwing strikes, try to get as many outs as I could," said Mitchell. He got enough, and left six on bases un-scored which proved pivotal. Graveman went the first 4.1 frames with four runs on seven hits, two walks and two strikeouts.

Three of those runs came on a single first-inning swing, after Graveman had walked the opening batter and allowed a single. Tide shortstop Jared Reaves no-doubted a drive, also to leftfield, for a 3-0 scoreboard before anyone was out. Graveman shook off the awful start and put up a pair of 0's, aided by a double-play and caught-stealing.

It took a longball to get State going, too. In the second inning with one out and 1B Ryan Collins on base, LF Brent Brownlee sailed his first home run since 2009 for a 3-2 score difference. Alabama came back for one in their fourth as a run-and-hit was executed just perfectly, with Booth doubling into the right-centerfield gap so Hunter Gregory could score all the way from first. Graveman made maybe the crucial defensive stand here, though, as he fielded-and-flipped on a squeeze bunt try to out the lead runner at home, then rolled a ground ball to keep it a 4-2 game.

Mitchell had begun loosening as early as the second inning, and got the call in the fifth after plunking and wild pitch. He loaded the other two bases himself but got a called strikeout, of Booth. The sixth didn't work out as well after a leadoff walk. That runner was erased as Mitchell fielded another bunt and fired to second. But he walked Taylor Dugas and a called pickoff throw to first went wild advancing both runners.

"And he was set up, we had him out," Cohen said. Naturally Bennett was swinging on the very next pitch. Dropping it into centerfield, too, for an RBI, but not two as Bradford's throw home caught Dugas. Mitchell kept Alabama at five runs for the rest of his stint. "His slider (which Mitchell claimed was a curveball) was working really well, his off-speed is a little slower usually and he was throwing it harder just and working along," said Freeman.

So was Wolfe until a Collins single and steal excused him for Nathan Kennedy to leave the runner stranded. He ran into seventh-inning trouble though as with one out Freeman reached as his grounder ate up the third baseman. Parks accepted his second plunking of the afternoon, then Vickerson hit a deep fly ball the rightfielder couldn't come down with to load the bases. Alabama went back to their bullpen for Windsor and he got a routine fly ball out of Ogden, that the fielder just dropped allowing Freeman—only he as with one out the runners were forced to hold up—to score. All bases were still occupied so a Collins grounder to the right side plated Parks. Windsor kept a 5-4 lead by grounding out Brownlee, but the stage had been set for the eighth-inning complete comeback.

"We needed this win, big, today," said Reed, who admitted on a 10.0 scale he was "7.5" at best. "I'll take that on a third game in a row." So did his coaches. Cohen had cautioned Reed that if he felt ‘it' wasn't there in warm-ups he would be shut down instantly. As soon as Reed said he did have ‘it' he was given the third chance.

"I'm thinking it will be in the strike zone, it doesn't matter if he's throwing it 72 mph it's going to be in the strike zone."

Freeman had a good zone of his own, going 3-of-5 with the two RBI and two runs. Vickerson also had three hits, while Collins, Brownlee, and Shepherd each hit safely twice. Bennett and Austen Smith had two hits each of Alabama's ten total safeties, with 13 by Bulldog batters.

Salvaging something from the series, and doing it on Sunday in a comeback fashion with a tired bullpen, did much to boost Bulldog attitudes. So did hearing the rest of the West scores as only LSU held up against superior East opposition, and that against the league's #12 team.

Though still stuck in ninth place, one out of qualifying for the SEC Tournament, the Bulldogs still can control their own May fate in the remaining three series. In fact, veteran Reed could put a positive spin on this pitch.

"I still say we gained one game ground in the race for the tournament."

State travels to South Alabama for a 6:00 Tuesday game, before a weekend series at Tennessee.

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