Catch 22: MSU rallies to defeat Arkansas

MSU's Ryan Gridley shows his emotion.
Staff Writer

Mississippi State came up with 21 come-from-behind wins in the regular season.
Now make that 22.
If MSU supporters have any fingernails left to bite, they could soon be gone as it appears the Bulldogs also decided to go ahead and bring their dramatic ways right into the postseason.
Trailing by a run in the ninth inning on Thursday at the Southeastern Conference Tournament, MSU staged a ninth-inning rally to upend Arkansas 4-3. For State head coach Andy Cannizaro, the win exemplified the blueprint his club has followed all year long.
“This victory just epitomizes what our team is about,” Cannizaro said. “Our guys don’t quit. They just keep going and going and they keep fighting and keep throwing punches. They do it all nine innings or however long it takes to win a ballgame.”
The win pushes the Bulldogs into an 11 a.m. game Friday against regular season SEC champion Florida. A victory Friday, either against the Gators or later in the day against another opponent should State fall to Florida, punches MSU’s ticket to Saturday’s single-elimination semifinal round of the tournament.
To get to that point though, State had to once again reach into its trademarked bag of late-inning magic.
“The coolest part about this team is the never-say-die mentality and attitude that we have,” MSU’s Brent Rooker said. “That lets us battle from behind and be able to win a lot of these games late in the game.”
It looked as though missed opportunities might ultimately haunt MSU (36-22) early on Thursday. The Bulldogs fell in a 3-0 hole to the Razorbacks (39-16) as Arkansas touched up State starting pitcher Denver McQuary courtesy of a two-run homer from Luke Bonfield in the first inning and a run-scoring double from Jack Kenley in the second.
From there, State’s offense struggled to fight back. It wasn’t for lack of chances. MSU’s offense stranded seven baserunners over the first five innings and started the day 0-for-9 as a team with runners in scoring position.
“There were certainly some pressure-filled situations and moments there where you just keep thinking, 'we’re only going to get so many opportunities against a really good Arkansas team,’” Cannizaro said. “At some point, you start getting ready to see somebody step up to the plate and get a big hit.”
Peyton Plumlee bought State the time it needed as the Bulldogs waited for a comeback. Plumlee entered on the mound in relief of McQuary in the fifth inning. He’d go on to throw four scoreless frames and allow just two hits.
“Coming out of the pen, you just have to fill up the strike zone,” Plumlee said. “We talk all the time about getting ahead in the counts, so that’s what I tried to do and just fill the zone up and get ground balls and keep us in the ballgame.”
With Plumlee rolling, slowly but surely, State chipped away. Elijah MacNamee had an RBI single in the sixth. In the eighth, Josh Lovelady came to bat with the bases loaded and drove in a run on a fielder’s choice grounder to short to cut MSU’s deficit to 3-2.
Finally, State completed the comeback in the top of the ninth. After Ryan Gridley started the inning with a single, Rooker doubled to the left-centerfield gap to tie the game. The Bulldogs then proceeded to load the bases before a bases-loaded walk was issued to Cody Brown, forcing home Rooker with the game’s deciding run.
Riley Self closed the door for MSU as he earned the save by pitching a scoreless bottom of the ninth.
“This win, the way the game went, was pretty prototypical of how games have gone for us this year,” Rooker said. “We don’t necessarily execute as well as we want to early, but we never feel like we’re out of the game. We continue fighting and battling and competing throughout the whole game. Eventually someone steps up and gets a big hit.”
Cannizaro would prefer his team make life a little easier on themselves. Still, he’s not complaining. After a hiccup at the end of the regular season when MSU lost its final five SEC games, it appears the Bulldogs are back up to their old tricks. It’s a formula that has worked pretty well the last three months, so Cannizaro is hopeful it can carry on for a few more weeks.
“In a perfect world, you jump out early and your starting pitcher goes four, five or six innings and you hand the ball off to the bullpen,” Cannizaro said. “That’s just not the way it has gone for us this year. That’s OK, because at the end of the day, we talk about when they shut the scoreboard down, the only thing we care about is just having more runs than the other team. It has just been a resiliency all season long. Our guys truly don’t quit or give up.”