HOOVER, Ala. – The 21st-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs plated runs 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.
UK’s run-scoring output came on a 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.
Kentucky will find out its NCAA Tournament draw on Monday at noon when the NCAA announces its bracket during the selection show on ESPNU.
The Wildcats collected nine hits in Saturday’s game, led by a career-high three hits from Riddle, who launched his fifth homer of the year.
Thomas McCarthy and Zac Zellers added two hits, with Lucas Witt and A.J. Reed notching singles.
“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.”
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.”
UK, going 2-1 in the tournament, 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,” 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.
“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.”
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.