HOOVER — Jonathan Holder picked up his third save of the Southeastern Conference tournament with a scoreless ninth inning and Mississippi State advanced to the championship game with a 2-1 win over Kentucky on Saturday.
Holder worked around a throwing error to leave the potential tying run on third, escaping with two grounders and an infield popup. He also got the win in Friday night’s game against LSU.
Mississippi State (38-22) plays Vanderbilt for the championship today at 2:30 p.m. Vanderbilt defeated Florida 8-6 on Saturday afternoon.
The Bulldogs, who also swept the Wildcats on the regular season’s final weekend, are seeking their seventh SEC tournament title and first since 2005.
Reliever Nick Routt (3-5) snuffed out a potential threat in the fifth, entering when Kentucky (43-16) had two men on base.
Routt got A.J. Reed to strike out looking to escape and pitched three more scoreless innings after that.
Bulldogs coach John Cohen called that strikeout the defining moment of the game.
“Nick Routt was a star today,” Cohen said. “He was waiting for his opportunity and he got it and took full advantage of it. And Jonathan Holder shut it down in the ninth inning and every time he’s gotten it he’s done an unbelievable job for us.”
Holder had to overcome a defensive miscue to open the inning.
Lucas Witt reached on a throwing error by third baseman Sam Frost — who moved from second for the final inning — and moved to second and third on grounders.
Holder then got Austin Cousino to pop up to short stop to end the game and extend his school-record streak of scoreless innings to 27 1/3.
“He’s tough to hit,” said teammate Adam Frazier, who had two hits. “When he comes in, we’re pretty comfortable. The nickname going around is ‘The Truth.’ As long as he keeps doing that, we’ll keep that nickname.”
The Bulldogs took a 2-1 lead in the first three innings and nursed it the rest of the way. Demarcus Henderson led off with a single, moved to second on Mitch Slauter’s sacrifice bunt and scored on a single up the middle by Wes Rea.
The Bulldogs used a similar method in the third, producing a run with Frazier’s leadoff single, Brent Brownlee’s sacrifice and Trey Porter’s RBI single up the middle.
Kentucky tied it in the bottom half with J.T. Riddle’s solo home run to right, his fifth of the season. Riddle had three of the Wildcats’ nine hits.
Kentucky starter Corey Littrell (8-2) allowed two runs in six innings.
“It was a great game for the fans,” Kentucky coach Gary Henderson said. “Extremely disappointed that we’re not playing (today). I’m really proud of our guys. They were tough. Clearly it was a rough day for us offensively, but it was just that type of game.”
Vanderbilt 8, Florida 6: Anthony Gomez drove in the go-ahead run — then stole second, third and home — and Vanderbilt rode a five-run ninth inning to victory.
The Commodores (33-25) have made it to the final game six times in nine trips to Hoover under coach Tim Corbin.
Vanderbilt fueled the comeback win over the Gators (42-18) with a flurry of stolen bases, six in the ninth. That included a triple-steal with the bases loaded when Gomez made his dash to home plate.
“It was, why not?” Gomez said. “Just try to push them as much as we can.”
He said the steal home “kind of happened spur of the moment.” Will Cooper held off swinging on the pitch and then delivered a two-run single.
“That was as big of an inning as we’ve had all year,” Corbin said.
The Commodores had entered the inning down 4-3 but touched up closer Austin Maddox for five hits and two walks.
“We got exposed there in the ninth,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Nobody likes to lose but I’m glad it happens this week and not next (in an NCAA regional). Trust me, we’ll get that cleaned up.”
Florida scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth and had the bases loaded before Vanderbilt reliever Drew VerHagen got Justin Shafer to pop up to right field on his sole pitch to end the game.
Gomez had two hits and two RBI plus the three stolen bases in the ninth.
Brian Johnson went 4-for-5 with four RBI, including one in the bottom of the ninth, and doubled twice to lead the Gators. Their own comeback bid fell short.
“We showed a lot of fight in our team,” said Johnson, who starred at the plate a day after pitching his first career complete-game in a win over South Carolina. “Hopefully it’s a good
sign of things to come for what we have coming up next.”
The Commodores started the rally with help from the bench. Pinch-hitters Connor Castellano and Andrew Harris led off with a double and sacrifice bunt.
Mike Yastrzemski then drove in the tying run with a bunt single.
He was caught stealing but Kemp moved to third, allowing him to score on Gomez’s dribbler to
As it turns out, that was just the start of the running.
“That was one of the craziest (innings) I’ve ever been a part of,” Gomez said.
The Gators had loaded the bases with one out in the eighth, but reliever Will Clinard (7-2) got Vickash Ramjit to ground into a double play and stay within one run.
Mississippi State 2, Kentucky 1
Vanderbilt 8, Florida 6
Mississippi State vs. Vanderbilt, ESPN2, 2:30 p.m.
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