March 10, 2018 11:05:42 PM
STARKVILLE -- In a Friday doubleheader, the Mississippi State baseball team's starting pitchers struck out 22 in 13 innings, allowed six hits, two runs, and one walk. Yet, in the seventh inning of the second game, MSU found itself with a loss in hand and staring down a 1-0 deficit.
After 16 innings of hard contact with little to show for it, MSU scored three runs in the eighth to earn a 4-2 win against Utah Valley State at Dudy Noble Field. The win followed a 2-1 loss in 11 innings and set the stage for the series finale at 1 p.m. today (SEC Network+).
"Today's been a grind," MSU shortstop Luke Alexander said. "We hit balls hard all day and had nothing to show for it. Finally get something going and get a lead like that. It's a relief."
Alexander's two-run home run to left field that ended the three-run eighth. MSU assistant coach and de facto hitting coach Jake Gautreau told him pitcher Ondrej Sebek (0-1) likely would start him with a breaking ball low in the zone before coming high with a fastball -- the pitch Alexander sent out of the yard.
Freshman designated hitter Tanner Allen's double gave the Bulldogs the lead before Alexander's homer. Allen also doubled in the first and, just like the second time, scored second baseman Hunter Stovall. It was a resurgent effort after going hitless in five at-bats in the first game. He struck out once and stranded two runners. MSU stranded 12 in the loss.
It wasn't that MSU (9-6) struggled making contact. MSU struck out just 10 times in the two games. Nine flyouts in Game 1 showed MSU was making solid contact.
"I think what you try to do is make sure you don't go to frustration," MSU interim coach Gary Henderson said. "By all rights, we should've won the game there by quality of contact late in the game. We hit the ball hard and we hit it right at them."
Alexander said stuff like that happens in college baseball and the Bulldogs have to learn to stay focused. He tried to set that example.
"When we did get down, we tell them to keep going and it finally showed up in the eighth," Alexander said.
Neither Alexander nor Henderson made dramatic speeches to the team in between games. Henderson said all he told the players was to "eat, change shirts, and get back out."
MSU rebounded in time in Game 2, but not in time to capitalize on seven strong innings from Konnor Pilkington in Game 1. Pilkington didn't allow a run or a walk and surrendered three hits and struck out 12, which is one shy of his career high for the third time.
"We really lived off fastball, moved it back and forth," Pilkington said. "Slider, was throwing it for strikes. Between the fastball and throwing the slider for strikes, it led to a lot of swings and misses."
Cole Gordon took the loss (1-1) after pitching 2 2/3 innings. He allowed one run and no hits. He walked three. Ethan Small started Game 2 and struck out 10 in six innings. Keegan James (1-1) pitched two scoreless innings and allowed one hit. Blake Smith earned his second save.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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