HOOVER, Ala. The Mississippi State Bulldogs had the misfortune of having to face Kentucky pitcher Adam Milburn on his best day. And it cost them an opportunity to win the SEC Tournament.
Milburn, setting career highs in every category, limited MSU to eight hits in a 4-1 win Friday afternoon before 2,273 in Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
The loss left Ron Polk's Bulldogs at 37-22 with a sixth place finish (1-2) in the tournament. MSU's next stop will be the NCAA Tournament with the 48-team field to be announced at 2 p.m. Monday in an ESPN broadcast.
"If the selection committee checks the scores and record, we're fine," Polk said. "Wherever we go, it won't be any tougher than this tournament is."
That statement was confirmed by Kentucky (34-24), the one team in the tournament that feels obligated to keep winning to assure an NCAA Tournament berth.
"Obviously, we think we deserve it. We've won 17 games in the best league in America. We were the No. 6 seed coming in and we're still winning," said Kentucky coach Keith Madison, a Polk protege. "We beat a Mississippi State team that's in.
"Let me ask you a question. After today, aren't we one of the best 48 teams in America?
Milburn, a left-hander making only his third start, made it appear that way. He struck out nine and walked one and aside from Brad Freeman's three hits, scattered five other singles to the rest of the MSU lineup.
"He (Milburn) was outstanding. He pitched great," Polk said. "We had only seen him in relief early in the year. But I thought Scott Polk did a great job for us."
Polk, who had been serving in the closer's role, got his first start of the season and allowed only one earned run in seven-plus innings.
Kentucky put together two runs in the top of the ninth off MSU relievers Van Johnson and Barry Walters to put it away. Travis Hayes ripped a bases-loaded single to seal it for the Wildcats.
MSU had early opportunities, scoring only one run in the top of the first inning after loading the bases with one out. Richard Lee had a sacrifice fly to account for MSU's only run.
Kentucky turned a pair of double plays and a successful pickoff to eliminate any further Bulldog threats. Freeman had MSU's only extra-base hit, a fifth inning double.
"It's disappointing not to play better in the tournament," Freeman said. "But we hope we still have one more tournament to go."
KENTUCKY 4, MISSISSIPPI STATE 1
Kentucky 010 000 102 4 8 0
Miss. State 100 000 000 1 8 2
WP - Adam Milburn (4-2). LP - Scott Polk (3-4). Multiple hits - (MS) Brad Freeman 3. (K) Travis Hayes 2, Todd Young 2, Kenny Miller 2. 2B - (MS) Brad Freeman. (K) Chad Green, Kenny Miller. Records: Mississippi State 37-22. Kentucky 34-24. Attendance: 2,273. Time: 2:22.
Notes: MSU's Scott Polk allowed only one earned run and struck out five in the loss. ...MSU's Adam Piatt had two errors at third base, running his season total to a team-high 26. ...MSU will find out their NCAA Tournament status at 2 p.m. Monday in an ESPN broadcast.