South Alabama strikes early, turns back Mississippi State 6-3 at Hattiesburg Regional

MSU shortstop Ryan Gridley prepares to tag South Alabama’s Dylan Hardy during Mississippi State – South Alabama baseball game at the Hattiesburg Regional Tournament, Friday, June 2, 2017. (Tim Isbell via AP)

Some first-inning lightning and a complete game from pitcher Randy Bell on Friday put South Alabama in the winner’s bracket of the NCAA Hattiesburg Regional.

The third-seeded Jaguars scored three runs in the first inning — including a leadoff homer by Dylan Hardy — on their way to a 6-3 victory over No. 2 seed Mississippi State at Pete Taylor Park. Travis Swaggerty homered and drove in four for South Alabama (40-19), which has now won six straight and 11 of its last 12.

South Alabama advances to face top-seeded Southern Miss (49-14) at 6 p.m. Saturday. Mississippi State (36-25) takes on Illinois-Chicago (39-16) in an elimination game at 1 p.m.

Bell (7-3) went the distance on the mound, allowing six hits and two walks with three strikeouts. The Woodville, Miss., native retired 12 of the last 13 hitters he faced.

The top of South Alabama’s lineup was particularly productive, with Hardy, Colton Thomas, Brendan Donovan and Travis Swaggerty combining to go 7-for-14 with six walks and six runs scored. The foursome each reached base in their first three plate appearances, including three walks by Donovan.

Hardy finished the game 3-for-5, while Thomas was 1-for-3 with two walks. Swaggerty went 3-for-5 with a homer, a double and four RBIs.

South Alabama took the lead on the game’s first pitch, as Hardy homered over the left-field wall vs. Mississippi State starter Cole Gordon (2-3). The home run was the fourth in four games for Hardy, after a 3-homer outburst in last weekend’s Sun Belt tournament.

Colton Thomas and Brendan Donovan then walked, followed by Travis Swaggerty’s RBI double for a 2-0 USA lead. One out later, Drew LaBounty’s groundout scored Donovan to make it 3-0.

Mississippi State got a run back in the first on two singles and a Hunter Stovall sacrifice fly. South Alabama chased Gordon from the game after loading the bases in the top of the third, but padded its lead on Swaggerty’s three-run homer to left-center field — his 11th of the year — which put USA up 6-1.

Mississippi State got two runs back in the bottom of the sixth on a walk, a Cody Brown triple and a Hunter Vansau sacrifice fly. Bell settled down after that, retiring the last two Bulldogs in that inning and all six he faced in the seventh and eighth before Josh Lovelady’s two-out single in the ninth.

Bell then got MSU’s Harrison Bragg to pop out to center to end the game.

Blount senior wide receiver Collins Woods III celebrates one of his 12 touchdown receptions last fall. Woods now has 19 college offers. (Scott Donaldson | preps@al.com)

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