GAINESVILLE, Fla. – While life on the road in the Southeastern Conference is difficult in any sport, the Mississippi State baseball team is making themselves feel right at home.
No. 10 MSU won its fourth-straight Southeastern Conference series to start the year with a 2-1 win over No. 1 Florida in the final game of a three-game set Sunday at UF’s McKethan Stadium.
MSU has begun league play with series win over Vanderbilt and Florida on the road, as well as Georgia and Ole Miss at home. On Sunday, the Bulldogs played the rubber game of a series for the first time this season as they overcame an 8-2 loss Friday to win the series with a 10-4 victory Saturday before Sunday’s win.
The last time the Bulldogs won four-straight SEC series was March 30-April 22, 2001. The win is also the fifth-straight overall series victory for the Bulldogs, the first time they have accomplished the feat since Feb. 28-March 30, 2003.
MSU strengthened its hold on a Top 10 ranking, as well as the SEC’s Western Division lead by completing a 3-1 week. The Bulldogs improved to 23-9-1 overall and 8-4 in league play, while the Gators fell to 29-5 and 8-4.
It was MSU’s first series win at Florida since 2007.
“Our kids gutted this out,” MSU head coach John Cohen said. “The name of this game was situational pitching. We had some key hits when it mattered. So proud of our pitchers today. We had some situations where we could have gotten more but we didn’t. We pitched well and defended well. We did enough.
“We were in the right place at the right time and made the right pitches. Every single pitch our kids are into the game. I can’t be more proud. This is a marathon though and we aren’t even halfway through yet.”
MSU snapped Florida’s 29-game home win streak Saturday before joining Kentucky as the only league teams to take a series from Florida. Ironically, Kentucky and MSU are the only league teams to begin the conference slate with four series wins.
The Bulldogs hold a slight one-game lead over Texas A&M in the Western Division standings, while trailing South Carolina by two games in the overall standings.
The story of Sunday’s game was the pitching of the MSU trio of Konnor Pilkington, Zac Houston and Reid Humphreys. While drawing his first SEC start, Pilkington threw four innings, allowing no runs on three hits. Houston (2-0) followed and was dominate for 3.1 innings of work. He struck out three and allowed one hit but was pulled after a one-out walk in the eighth inning.
Humphreys closed the door from there for his third save. He worked out of a bases-loaded spot in the eighth inning and retired the first two in the ninth inning before being touched for a solo home run by Peter Alonso. After that blast, it was back to work for the game-ending strikeout.
MSU started the scoring in the fifth inning on Ryan Gridley’s second home run of the season, a solo shot to left center. In the Bulldogs’ seventh inning, Brent Rooker doubled and John Holland doubled sending Rooker to third base. A walk to Jake Mangum loaded the bases.
Elih Marrero followed with an RBI-single. After that, two strikeouts and a popup ended the threat and the Bulldogs had to simply hang on.
MSU finished with nine hits, including a three-hit night by Marrero and a two-hit night by Rooker. Marrero’s three-hit night ties a career high and is the third such performance of the season.
Florida finished with six hits. Starting pitcher Dane Dunning (2-2) worked five innings and took the loss.