Kentucky baseball's recent nemesis struck again Friday night. Mississippi State beat UK 8-4.
But UK's enemy this cold night at Cliff Hagan Stadium wore blue and white. A season-high four errors, including three in the decisive sixth inning, cost Kentucky in the opening game of a series between top-15 teams.
"We gave the game away in the sixth inning," said UK Coach Gary Henderson, who noted how errors cost his team a victory a week earlier at Florida.
No. 14 Mississippi State, which improved to 21-4 overall and 2-2 in the Southeastern Conference, twice foiled Kentucky's baseball hopes last season. The Bulldogs won four of five games between the teams, preventing UK from winning the SEC's regular-season championship and then eliminating the Cats from the league tournament.
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A new year brought more disappointment, although Henderson cautioned reporters not to link the losses.
"I don't think tonight had anything to do (with last season)," the UK coach said. "We just lost our poise in the sixth inning."
It was 43 degrees at the first pitch. Mississippi State's leadoff man, shortstop Adam Frazier, hit that pitch into the right-centerfield gap for a double. That meant he'd gotten a hit in 22 of State's 25 games.
Frazier, who added two hits to his SEC-leading total, scored on Hunter Renfroe's single.
After State extended the lead to 2-0 in the top of the fourth inning, Kentucky rallied. First baseman Thomas Bernal, who had two RBI all season, doubled in UK's first run in the bottom of the fourth.
Bernal singled in a run during a two-run fifth inning that put UK ahead 4-2.
Then came the three UK errors, which helped Mississippi State score five runs in the top the sixth. The inning started innocently when Wes Rea lifted a high fly to short right field. The ball dropped between the second baseman and right fielder.
"The communication was pretty good," Henderson said. Second baseman J.T. Riddle initially called out that he would catch the ball. He then gave way to right fielder Kyle Barrett.
"(Barrett) came in and just missed it," Henderson said. "Hard to believe it with the sixth inning, but we've been pretty good defensively until the last two Friday nights."
UK made three errors in the sixth inning at Florida on March 15. The Gators broke open a tie game and won 4-1.
After the fly ball dropped, two singles loaded the bases and chased UK starter A.J. Reed.
Frazier's high hopper, which took a bad hop, ate up Bernal at first. That scored a run. After a sacrifice fly tied it, State took the lead on Mitch Slauter's two-run single. A third run scored on a throwing error.
No. 8 Kentucky, 16-5 overall and 2-2 in the SEC, threatened in the eighth inning when the first two hitters got infield hits. The runners moved to second and third with two out. Austin Cousino, a .305 hitter so far this season, ended the inning by bouncing back to the pitcher. That made Cousino, the pre-season SEC Player of the Year, only 2-for-23 against State pitching the last two seasons.
Renfroe blasted a home run in the ninth to complete the scoring.
Because of a forecast of bad weather on Sunday, Kentucky and Mississippi State agreed to complete the series with a doubleheader on Saturday.
Noting that Kentucky won the series at Florida last weekend after losing the opener, Henderson looked forward to playing again Saturday afternoon when it would presumably be warmer.
"They're all big, all 10 of them," he said of Kentucky's 10 SEC series. "It's a long road."
Mississippi State at Kentucky
TV: Fox Sports South
Radio: WLAP-AM 630
Eastern Division SEC All
Vanderbilt 3-1 19-4
Kentucky 2-2 16-5
South Carolina 2-2 18-4
Florida 2-2 11-12
Tennessee 2-2 12-9
Missouri 1-3 7-11
Georgia 0-4 8-14
Western Division SEC All
Texas A&M 3-1 15-8
Alabama 3-1 14-9
Mississippi 3-1 21-2
LSU 2-1 19-2
Arkansas 2-2 15-7
Mississippi State 2-2 21-4
Auburn 0-3 15-6
Tennessee 4, Missouri 0
Mississippi St. 8, Kentucky 4
Alabama 6, Georgia 3
Mississippi 8, Texas A&M 2
Arkansas 15, South Carolina 3
Florida 7, Vanderbilt 1
Auburn at LSU, (n)