Mississippi State survives against Illinois-Chicago, 5-4

Mississippi State survives against Illinois-Chicago, 5-4

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The elimination bracket of a baseball tournament is an unforgiving world, with one, simple reality: Play and survive.

And that's exactly what Mississippi State University did Sunday morning in the Hattiesburg Regional before 4,149 at Pete Taylor Park.

Mississippi State University left-hander Konnor Pilkington dominated for seven innings and the Bulldogs survived the last two innings to hang on to a 5-4 victory over the University of Illinois-Chicago.

"Proud of our guys for coming out and competing, playing a full nine innings and not letting the other team beat us (Sunday)," MSU coach Andy Cannizaro said. "I felt like our guys played with a lot of pride, a lot of energy and emotion. It was a terrific win for us."

And a devastating loss for the Flames, who had bases-loaded in the ninth inning of both its regional games, only to fall a run short in each.

"You guys would have to this position one to understand what this feels like," UIC coach Mike Dee said. "I'm especially heartbroken for our players. They expected so many things this entire year.

"To come that close against two nationally-ranked teams and have an opportunity the last two innings of both games to take the lead and win and come up a little bit short, it's really hard to swallow."

Second-seeded State (37-25) will play in a 6 p.m. elimination game against the loser of Sunday's second game between top-seeded University of Southern Mississippi (49-14) and third-seeded University of South Alabama (40-19).

Fourth-seeded Illinois-Chicago (39-17), playing in its first baseball regional since 2008, suffered its second consecutive heartbreaker in the regional. The Flames lost a 6-1 lead Friday night and fell 8-7 to Southern Miss.

Sunday, Pilkington (8-5) had allowed just one hit over the first seven innings, and the Bulldogs were cruising with a 5-1 lead before the Flames ambushed opened the bottom of the eighth inning and end his afternoon.

Mickey McDonald got UIC within 5-3 with two-run single, and Rob Calabrese's infield single at third base got the Flames within a run.

But State's Riley Self came out of the bullpen to get the final five outs of the game and pick up his seventh save.

"In the eighth inning they put a couple swings on me, but I give credit to my defense," said Pilkington, who allowed four runs on four hits, walking two while striking out nine. "Without them I wouldn't be in the ballgame.

"(Second baseman Hunter) Stovall made two tremendous plays and (catcher Josh) Love(lady) being behind the dish for me, it really helps having a defense like we do at Mississippi State."

The offense did its share as well. MSU left fielder Elijah MacNamee knocked in a pair of runs with a pair of hits as the Bulldogs collected 14 hits off four UIC pitchers.

MacNamee's single drove in Hunter Stovall in a three-run fourth inning and his double in the fifth put the Bulldogs ahead 5-1.

UIC right-handed starter Reid Birlingmair (7-5) took the loss, allowing five runs on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. He walked two, striking out seven.

MSU first baseman Brent Rooker, 2017 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, was 2-of-5 with a RBI double. Rooker became the first player in SEC history with 20 home runs, 30 doubles and 75 runs batted in during a season.

Center fielder Jake Mangum had three hits for the Bulldogs, while shortstop Ryan Gridley and third baseman Cody Brown each had two hits.

Illinois –Chicago left fielder Brandon Gibis led the Flames's seven-hit attack with his third, three-hit game of the season.

"We came out and feel like we made a statement in the past two games," Gibis said. "You know, to come that close, it's heartbreaking. But I'm really proud of this team and the guys I've played with.

"It's been a blast."