STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Mississippi State got a strong start from ace Chris Stratton and a two-run rally in the fourth inning to post a 3-1 series-opening win over No. 2 Kentucky, on Thursday night in front of 6,146 at Dudy Noble Field.
Kentucky (41-13, 18-10 Southeastern Conference) battled MSU through the first few innings in a pitching duel, before the Bulldogs rallied with two runs in the fourth inning. Stratton then settled in to toss the complete-game shutout to secure the MSU win. The series-opening defeat puts the Wildcats a half-game behind South Carolina, who has had its series-opening game with LSU in Columbia, S.C., rained out, with the teams set to play a doubleheader on Friday.
UK got seven hits in the game, with Luke Maile cranking two doubles in his four at bats and J.T. Riddle adding UK’s other two-hit game. UK also got hits from Brian Adams, Thomas McCarthy and Paul McConkey, with McConkey getting his first career double.
UK starter Taylor Rogers (6-4) suffered the loss, working 5.1 innings, allowing five hits and three runs, walking two and striking out three. He was relieved in the sixth inning with a runner on second base and one out by Walter Wijas, who allowed a two-strike hit in the one right-handed batter he faced. Sam Mahar then got the call with runners at the corners and one out, working a total of 2.2 shutout innings, allowing two hits and one walk, striking out one.
Mississippi State’s (32-21, 14-14 SEC) starter Stratton (10-1) dominated through the game, working 6.1 innings, allowing six hits and one run, striking out eight and tying the MSU single-season strikeout record set by former MLB star Jeff Brantley. MSU used Ross Mitchell next in relief, working 2.1 innings, allowing one hit and striking out one. With the game-tying run at the plate in the ninth, MSU turned to Jonathan Holder, who got the final out of the game for his fifth save of 2012.
The series will resume on Friday at 8 p.m. ET at Dudy Noble Field. The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, available on WLAP 630-AM in Central Kentucky, on WGVN 1580-AM in Louisville and online at UKathletics.com. The game will also be televised live on Fox Sports South with Larry Conley and Dave Neal on the call. UK will send junior southpaw Jerad Grundy (4-2, 3.91 ERA) to the mound to face off with Mississippi State junior right-hander Kendall Graveman (4-3, 2.69 ERA).
The Bulldogs took control of the game in the bottom of the fourth inning, as Trey Porter was hit by a 2-2 pitch and Trey Slater doubled down the leftfield line with a 1-2 count. After Brent Brownlee was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Wes Rea snapped a 1-for-40 stretch with a two-RBI double down the line.
UK got on the board in the top of sixth, as Adams singled up the middle on a two-strike count, stealing second base and taking third on a fly out to centerfield. Maile then smashed a double off the wall in rightfield to score Adams and cut the lead to 2-1.
Mississippi State added a run in the bottom of the sixth inning, as Mitch Slauter singled to rightfield to leadoff and Brownlee pushed him to second with a sacrifice bunt, ending Rogers start. UK turned to Wijas, who allowed a two-strike single through the left side to put runners on the corners. UK called on Mahar for a left-on-left matchup with Sam Frost. Frost laid down a perfect bunt single on the chalk down the third base line, allowing Slauter to score.
GAME NOTES: Paul McConkey smashed his first double of the year in the third inning, his first career extra-base hit … Luke Maile doubled for the 11th time of 2012 … The double was Maile’s 20th two-out hit of the year … Brian Adams stole his first base of the year … Maile notched a two-out RBI double in the sixth inning, his 11th double and his 16th two-out RBI … McConkey was hit by his third pitch … Matt Reida laid down his team-high ninth sacrifice bunt of the year.