STARKVILLE, Miss. – With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the 12th, a 3-1 pitch was ruled inside for ball four, giving No. 21 Mississippi State a 4-3, series-clinching victory on a muggy Sunday afternoon at Dudy Noble Field.
The extra-inning loss was UT’s second in as many days to the Bulldogs and fourth in their last six contests in Starkville, having also lost two extra-inning games in 2012.
“It’s pretty devastating because the team fought hard,” UT head coach Dave Serrano said. “We fought tooth-and-nail. We are still trying to learn how to win these types of games in this type of atmosphere. We can look to ball four to end the game but we kind of created that inning ourselves.
“It was a good series, a great series of baseball if you are a spectator. Not good for the Vols because we drive out of here losing two out of three and that wasn’t our plan coming in here. We’re not done yet, we just have to learn how to finish off games and sustain stuff to not put ourselves in that position.”
With an overall record of 29-20 and an 11-16 mark in SEC play, Tennessee still controls its own postseason destiny as it holds a one-game lead in the league standings over both Georgia and Auburn. Mississippi State improves to 33-19 on the year and 16-11 in conference action with the win.
After 30 innings of errorless defense to start the weekend, UT’s first two miscues allowed the Bulldogs to get the ball rolling in their favor in the bottom of the 12th with runners on second and third and nobody out. An intentional walk would then load the bases before started to channel some of the magic he summoned on Friday in getting out of a pair of bases-loaded jams to save the Vols’ 4-2 series-opening win.
Lee first got a fly out to shallow center that forced all three runners to hold their base. He then induced a groundball to A.J. Simcox at short who fired home for the second out. It wasn’t meant to be, however, as the game ended moments later when a 3-1 pitch to Cody Walker was ruled inside.
Sophomore Andy Cox started the game on the mound for the Big Orange and gave his team six solid innings, allowing three runs on four hits while striking out a career high nine batters. Peter Lenstrohm added two shutout frames of relief before handing the ball over to Lee who worked the final 3.2 innings.
That blast came after a busy first inning in which both teams cracked the scoreboard. The Vols did so first, plating two runs in the opening stanza. Will Maddox started the game with an infield single and promptly stole second. After a productive groundout by Simcox and an HBP by Stewart, a throwing error on a stolen base attempt brought Maddox in the final 90 feet.Nick Senzel then notched an RBI on a groundout to third that allowed Stewart to score.
Although Mississippi State got one run back in the bottom of the first on a bloop single to right that fell in between two Vol defenders, Smart pushed the lead back to two runs with his solo shot on the second pitch of the second inning.
From there, Cox kept the Bulldogs down until a leadoff walk came back to haunt him in the bottom of the sixth. He responded with two flyball outs after the free pass but Wes Rea made him pay by depositing the first pitch he saw into the Left Field Lounge to tie the game.
Both pitching staffs dominated from that point on until the Bulldogs pulled out the series win in the 12th.
Tennessee will next be in action at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 13, when it closes out its non-conference schedule against Morehead State at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville.
Release and photo courtesy of Tennessee Sports Information