Junior catcher Thomas Berkery went 3-for-4 and drove in four runs Friday night to lead Mississippi State (29-15, 10-11 SEC) to a series-opening 7-3 win over No. 12 Alabama (33-15, 13-9 SEC) at Dudy Noble Field. The win snapped a four-game losing skid by the Bulldogs, who climbed to seventh place in the league's overall standings.
Berkery doubled in two runs in the second and plated two more on a sixth-inning home run that gave MSU its final margin of victory.
The game also marked the return to action of junior center fielder Joseph Hunter, who entered the game as a defensive replacement in the fourth inning. Hunter, the team's hitting leader, missed the past 11 games after fracturing a thumb when struck by a pitch against Georgia on April 16. Hunter went 0-for-3 at the plate in his first game back.
The third start against Alabama was a charm for Bulldog senior pitcher Alan Johnson (3-5), who overcame first inning difficulties and ended up working seven strong innings. Johnson, from pleasant Grove, Ala., had a no-decision and a loss in his two previous meetings with Alabama. Johnson allowed three runs on five hits with three walks and six strikeouts.
"Alan didn't have his good stuff early tonight, but he battled through it to give us seven good innings," said Bulldog skipper Ron Polk. "Getting to T.J. Large for three runs in the first was huge. So were Berkery's double and home run."
The game included five double plays, three by Alabama.
Alabama broke on top in the first inning when Allen Rice reached on an infield single and Gabe Scott followed with his 11th home run of the season, a one-out blast inside the right field foul pole.
State answered promptly with three runs, one on Brad Jones' two-strike single to right-center field and two more on a double into the left field corner by Ed Easley.
The Bulldogs stretched the lead to 5-2 an inning later. UA starter T.J. Large retired the first batter he faced in the second but plunked Jeff Butts and Jeffrey Rea before Berkery followed with a two-run double to right-center. Lefty Brent Carter then followed Large to the hill, ending the inning with a double play and working around problems in the fourth and fifth innings with double plays.
In the fourth Zac Welch singled up the middle and later came home on an errant pick-off throw at second base, trimming the MSU lead to 5-3.
Carter held State scoreless until the sixth when with two outs Rea singled to shallow left and Berkery uncorked his team-leading sixth home run of the year just inside the left field foul pole. Carter was charged with two runs on eight hits over 6-2/3 innings.
Jeffrey Rea scored three runs on a 3-for-4 night at the plate while Brad Jones and Ed Easley had two hits each to highlight MSU's 12-hit attack.
Saunders Ramsey followed Johnson to the hill in the eighth, shutting out the Tide over the final two frames.