Baseball loses series to Mississippi State after the bullpen blows it again

Tzali Nislick, Staff Reporter

It’s been the same story the last five weekends for Alabama baseball: losing winnable games. That continued this weekend against Mississippi State (19-14, 3-9 SEC), resulting in a fifth consecutive series loss.  

What was considered a strength of the team before league play, the bullpen was disastrous again in both losses against the Bulldogs, accumulating a dreadful 10.95 ERA and 2.19 WHIP in 12.1 innings of work over the series.  

“We weren’t good enough in the bullpen tonight,” Alabama head coach Brad Bohannon said Saturday. “We’ve got to execute more pitches late.” 

Right-hander Garrett McMillan went just one inning in a lackluster start on Thursday, but Alabama (23-8, 4-8 SEC) managed to fight back for a tied game through five innings. The wheels fell off after that, thanks to a six-run seventh inning from Mississippi State. The bullpen served up four home runs in total on the night and, despite a comeback attempt in the ninth inning, the game was too far out of reach and the Crimson Tide fell 12-8. 

“We just got to have some guys step up and make some big pitches,” Bohannon said Thursday. “The strike zone is as small as it’s ever been, the baseball is as hard as it’s ever been, so it’s a hard time for college pitchers throwing to a small strike zone to get a bunch of older kids out.” 

Adding insult to injury, six of the Bulldogs’ final nine runs came in at bats when the hitter had two strikes on him. 

“I would like to see us put some guys away. We’re getting ahead in the count, and we got to put them away,” Bohannon said. “You work so hard to get in those advantage counts. The swinging percentage is in your favor, you got to put them away.” 

It was quite the opposite outcome on Friday, with right-hander Luke Holman turning in an impressive start. The sophomore pitched 5.2 innings of one-run ball, allowing just three hits and two walks to earn the win. Freshmen Riley Quick and Alton Davis II combined for 1.1 shutout innings in relief in the 11-1 run-rule victory.  

The offense came through as well, with a five-run second inning before catcher Dominic Tamez put things away with two homers later on.  

“Today was a great example of the mentality that our kids play with,” Bohannon said Friday. “I thought we had some good at bats, taking some borderline pitches and working some walks. Obviously in the second inning, putting up the five-spot and Luke gave us a great start.”  

Spirits were high entering the rubber match on Saturday, with the series on the line and the opportunity for the Crimson Tide to make up some ground in the SEC standings. Junior Grayson Hitt gave Alabama a quality start and the lead heading into the seventh inning, but it all went downhill after that. 

Mississippi State scored five runs in the final three innings while the Alabama bats went silent to take the series.  

“We’re having a hard time closing games out,” Bohannon said. “It’s really hard to close games out and we’ve got to get better at it in a hurry.”  

Seven of the Crimson Tide’s previous eight losses have been credited to a relief pitcher. The bullpen struggles are nothing new for a team whose conference and NCAA Tournament hopes are quickly dwindling away. Losing an essentially must-win series at home, to a team that entered with a 1-8 SEC record, is a sharp dagger in the heart.  

The road does not get any easier either. After hosting Auburn (4-8) next weekend, the Crimson Tide has Missouri (4-8), No. 1 LSU (7-4) and No. 4 Vanderbilt (11-1) on tap through the first week of May. Bohannon is right; Alabama has to figure out how to shut the door, but whether it will is a much different question.  

But first is a matchup in Tuscaloosa against Southern Mississippi on Tuesday at 6 p.m. on SEC Network+.