HOOVER, Ala. -- The 21st-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs plated a run in the second and third innings and used strong relief outings to post a 2-1 win over No. 11 Kentucky in an elimination game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals, on a hot Saturday afternoon at Regions Park.
Kentucky (43-16) left nine runners on base in the game, as the Bulldogs used single runs in the second and third innings to post the 2-1 win over the Wildcats. UK's run-scoring output came on the solo homer from J.T. Riddle in the bottom of the second inning.
The UK loss comes against a red-hot Mississippi State team that earned a berth in the SEC Tournament semifinals with a walk-off win over No. 2 LSU, the top overall seed in the tourney, on Friday afternoon. MSU has won 15 of its last 19 games against SEC opponents after advancing to the finals with the Saturday win.
"I give a lot of credit to both pitching staffs, especially John (Cohen)'s group," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "[MSU pitching coach] Butch Thompson is obviously doing a tremendous job over there. It was a great game for the fans. Extremely disappointed that we're not playing tomorrow. I'm really proud of our guys. They were tough. They showed up. Clearly it was a rough day for us offensively, but it was just that type of game, 2-1. Each team left nine guys on base."
The Wildcats went 2-1 in the SEC Tournament with their advancing to the semifinals marking the best finish in the modern-era history of the tournament (1998-present). UK played for the title in 1981 in a four-team field. UK posted a staggering 1.00 team ERA during the week with two saves and only 19 hits allowed in 27 innings, with opponents hitting .207 and the UK staff not allowing a single extra-base hit or stolen base.
"Yeah, they have a good team, and they were a good team going into it," senior Thomas McCarthy said. "We tried our best, but we couldn't get that one to fall for us. There was great pitching on both ends, like Coach Henderson said. Our pitchers kept us in the whole game. Unfortunately we couldn't scratch one across."
UK starter Corey Littrell (8-2) worked six innings, allowing six hits and two runs, walking two and striking out six. Littrell worked his ninth quality start of the year and suffered just his second loss in 2012, with both coming to the Bulldogs. Taylor Rogers replaced him to start the seventh, working 2.2 shutout innings, allowing two hits - one which was a sun-induced pop-up in the infield - and one walk, striking out two. Trevor Gott came on the ninth inning and got the final out of the inning.
Mississippi State (38-22) starter Luis Pollorena worked two innings, allowing three hits and one run, walking one and striking out three. Ben Bracewell replaced him and worked 2.2 shutout innings, allowing three hits and walking one with one strikeout. Lefty Nick Routt (3-5) worked 3.1 shutout innings, allowing three hits and striking out four. Closer Jonathan Holder, owning a sparkling 0.00 ERA, came on to close the game in the ninth, picking up his nine save of the year.
Kentucky will find out its NCAA Tournament draw on Monday at 12 p.m. ET, when the NCAA announces its bracket during the selection show on ESPNU. To purchase tickets to a potential NCAA Lexington Regional, fans can visit UKathletics.com.
The Wildcats collected nine hits in the game, led by a career-high three hits from Riddle, who launched his fifth homer of the year.
"I was just in the batter's box trying to get the ball in the middle and sit on it," Riddle said about his homer. "He left a curve ball up, and I sat on it."
McCarthy and Zac Zellers added two hits, with Lucas Witt and A.J. Reed notching singles.
"Well, I didn't think we threw away a lot of at-bats," Henderson said on UK's offensive approach. "I thought they did a tremendous job of commanding the changeup. We were out front. We had a little bit of chase. I thought our concentration was outstanding. We clearly hit some balls that were capable and hard enough to fall in. We hit a lot of balls early on and in the middle of the game that were not hard enough to fall in. It's just the way it goes. I can't fault our kids. I thought they competed really well."
Reed led UK in hitting during the tournament with a .583 average (7-for-12) with a homer and three RBI. Thomas McCarthy added a .462 mark (6-for-13) with three doubles and one RBI.
Littrell was efficient to start the game, forcing a fly out to left from Mississippi State leadoff Adam Frazier on the first pitch of the game. A strikeout tallied the second out of the inning but Littrell walked Hunter Renfroe to put a runner on first with two outs. Littrell forced a fly out to Matt Reida in shallow left to end the first inning with one runner left on base.
Leading off for Kentucky, Austin Cousino recorded a quick out with a pop out to Frazier at short but McCarthy got things going, reaching on a two-base error after a sinking line drive to rightfield was misplayed. Pollerena struck out the next two batters to prevent any damage from the two-base error and finish a scoreless first inning.
Down 0-2 to lead off the second inning, Demarcus Henderson singled into right center for the first hit of the ball game. Mitch Slauter dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move Henderson into scoring position at second. The small ball paid off for the Bulldogs as Wes Rea singled up the middle to score Henderson and give Mississippi State a 1-0 lead in the top of the second.
Kentucky matched Mississippi State in the bottom half of the inning as Riddle drilled a one out, solo home run over the rightfield wall to tie the score at 1-1. Witt followed with a line drive single up the middle but was caught stealing while attempting to take second. Zellers singled up the middle for the Wildcats' third straight hit but Pollerena got Reida to ground out to second to end the inning.
Frazier led off for the Bulldogs in the third and made his way to first on a single to left field and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from Brent Brownlee. A deep fly out in foul territory to Zellers in right field allowed for Frazier to tag from second and get to third with two outs and Trey Porter up to bat. The designated hitter did his job, driving Frazier in with a two-out single to centerfield just out of the reach of Cousino's diving grab. Henderson lined out to Zellers in right field but the Bulldogs added on a second run to take the lead back at 2-1.
Cousino led off the bottom of the third with a base on balls, causing Mississippi State to make a call to the bullpen and bring in Bracewell with no outs and Cousino on first. McCarthy hit a ground ball to the left side that bounced up and hit Cousino, creating a dead ball situation that left Cousino out and McCarthy at first with one out on the base hit. Maile grounded to third for the second out of the inning but McCarthy advanced to second on the slow roller. Bracewell was able to leave McCarthy stranded, forcing a fly out to centerfield.
Littrell kept the top half of the fourth quiet, striking out two batters and forcing a ground out to keep the Bulldogs form getting a runner into scoring position.
Riddle added his second hit of the day in the bottom of the fourth with a line drive up the middle to give Kentucky a runner on first with one out. Witt hit a hard groundball on the right side but Bulldog second basemen Frost made a diving stop and threw Witt out at first for the second out of the inning. A fly out to center field to end the inning left Riddle stuck on second and Mississippi State still clinging to a 2-1 lead through four.
With just 60 pitches on the day, Littrell came out in the fifth for Kentucky and surrendered a leadoff single to center field from Frazier. Brownlee laid down his second sacrifice bunt of the day to put Frazier on second with one out and the middle of the lineup coming to the plate. A slow roller to Reida at shortstop recorded the second out of the inning but allowed Frazier to advance to third. Preventing a repeat of the third inning, Littrell forced a ground out to Riddle at second and left Frazier stranded at third.
Bracewell retired the first two batters of the bottom of the fifth but couldn't finish out the inning, allowing a single up the middle to McCarthy and a walk to Maile. The Bulldogs brought in lefthander Routt to face A.J. Reed with runners on first and second and two outs. Routt did the job he was brought in to do, caught Reed looking and struck him out to end the inning.
Following a leadoff line out, Slauter singled to right center to give the Bulldogs a runner on first with one out. Littrell didn't allow for Slauter to advance from there, striking out the remaining two batters and increasing his strikeout total to six on the game.
For a third time of the game, Riddle recorded a hit with one out but Riddle's third hit of the game would be erased on a 4-6-3 double play on a solid groundball from Witt.
Rogers made his second relief appearance of the tournament, taking the hill for Kentucky in the top of the seventh. Rogers' inning started off rough, forcing an infield pop up that was misplayed and ruled a hit. Mississippi State sacrificed with their leading hitter, Frazier, to advance Norris to second with one out. Rogers walked Brownlee to put runners on first and second but was able to fight back from a 3-0 count to strike out Renfroe for the second out of the inning. Rogers and Porter had a battle, Porter fighting off pitch after pitch in a 1-2 count but following a mound visit from Henderson, Rogers struck out Porter swinging on a high fastball to keep the Bulldogs lead at 2-1.
Zellers led off Kentucky in the bottom of the seventh with a single through the left side but was called out at second on a fielder's choice from Reida. Cousino hit a soft grounder to Frost at second and was thrown out at first. McCarthy came up to bat with Reida on second but wasn't able to knock him in after flying out to right field.
Rogers retired the Bulldogs in order in the top of the eighth, the first half inning of the game that a baserunner didn't reach.
Reed singled through the right side for Kentucky in the bottom of the eighth with one out. Brian Adams came on to pinch run for Reed. Following a strikeout, Riddle lined a ball to deep right center but Brownlee ranged to his right to make the play and keep the Bulldogs' lead at 2-1 going into the final inning.
Sam Frost led the Bulldogs off with a single through the right side in the top of the ninth. Looking to add an insurance run, Norris laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Frost to second. Frost made his way to third on a groundout to Reida at short and Henderson would call to Gott in the bullpen in an attempt to keep Frost stranded on third. Gott took over and executed the job he was brought in to do, retire the third out of the inning, forcing Brownlee to ground out to second.
Mississippi State went to its closer, Holder, to close the door on Kentucky. Witt sparked Kentucky, reaching first after a throwing error from Frost at third base. Zellers dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move the tying run to second with one out. UK went to slugger Cameron Flynn to pinch hit with Witt on second and Flynn's ground out to second moved Witt to third with two outs and Cousino coming to bat. Cousino battled but a pop up to Frazier at short ended the game and gave Mississippi State the 2-1 victory.
GAME NOTES: Lucas Witt made his first start since April 10 vs. Louisville ... Corey Littrell made his first start of the year in the white uniform combination ... J.T. Riddle launched his fifth homer of the year in the second inning, clearing both fences in rightfield ... The Riddle homer was his first since hitting one against Cincinnati on April 17 and was his first hit of the SEC Tournament ... Austin Cousino stole his 13th base in 14 attempts ... Riddle tied his career high with three hits ... Littrell tossed his ninth quality start of the year and the 13th of his two-year career ... UK is now 15-6 in one-run games and 18-8 in one or two-run games ... UK sits one win shy of equaling the school record of 44 wins set in 2006 and 2008 ... UK's semifinals appearance is its best in the modern-era history of the program (1998-present), appearing in the SEC Tournament title game in 1981 in a four-team field ... UK's pitching staff owned a 1.00 team ERA during the three-game tournament.