Mississippi State punches ticket to College World Series
Published 1:31 pm Monday, June 11, 2018
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — After the season the Mississippi State Bulldogs have had, what’s a little two-hour weather delay, a five-hour-plus, 11-inning game to punch a ticket to the College World Series?
The Bulldogs survived all those things, plus a three-run ninth-inning rally by Vanderbilt, to take a 10-6 victory on Sunday night and secure a date in Omaha in what has become a season of survival.
Interim coach Gary Henderson replaced the fired Andy Canizzaro in February, and now has the Bulldogs (37-27) buying into his philosophies and reaping the rewards from it.
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“It’s been really unusual. It’s been at times weird. At times you’re playing the game, and some dude is heckling you from the stands, calling you Mr. Interim. That’s as awkward then as it is right now with me telling you that,” Henderson said. “I really admire our coaching staff. Those guys got on board, no hidden agenda. It was, ‘Hendu, what do we need to do?’ And I let them do it.”
Henderson’s Bulldogs responded after a slow start to the season, being 2-7 at one point in Southeastern Conference play and 14-15 overall, with everything culminating in Sunday night’s marathon win over Vanderbilt.
Tanner Allen’s double in the 11th inning drove in the go-ahead run and sparked a four-run rally as Mississippi State finally outlasted Vanderbilt to claim the 10th — and perhaps unlikeliest — College World Series bid in the program’s history.
Allen’s line drive into the right-field corner scored pinch-hitter Josh Hatcher, who had walked to lead off the inning. Mississippi State, which will be headed to Omaha for the first time since 2013, later scored a second run when Justin Foscue drew a bases-loaded walk to drive in Rowdey Jordan, who had reached on an infield single. Luke Alexander followed with a two-run single to push the Bulldogs’ lead to four runs.
The State rally made a winner of reliever Denver McQuary (2-2), who faced just two batters. Keegan James pitched a scoreless bottom of the 11th to close the game.
Tyler Brown (1-5) took the loss for Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt (35-27) had rallied from three runs down in the ninth inning to force extra innings after Mississippi State had scored three times to take the lead in the top half of the frame.
Pat DeMarco hit a one-out solo home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. Harrison Ray followed with a single, and then Ethan Paul homered over the right field wall to tie it in a span of three batters and 10 pitches.
Although Vanderbilt came up big in the ninth, however, it struggled mightily at other key junctures.
Mississippi State pitchers struck out 16 Vanderbilt batters and the Commodores left 17 runners on base. The stranded runners included three in the eighth inning, and another at second in the 10th.
In three games in the super regional, Vanderbilt’s batters struck out 36 times.
“I’m proud of our boys. I really am,” Commodores coach Tim Corbin said. “It wasn’t a pretty baseball game, but it was a heck of a game to be a part of. There were so many big plays defensive and some big hits. That last (ninth) inning, I’ll never forget. We pieced together a heck of an inning when it looked like it was over. But at the very end there, we were just too far to come from behind.”
For Mississippi State center fielder Jake Mangum, whose RBI double in the ninth sparked the Bulldogs’ rally that had them three outs from Omaha, it was almost fitting that they had to go to extra innings after the season they have endured.
“I was thinking about that in the 10th inning. Why wouldn’t we blow a three-run lead and have to win it in extra innings? This year has been a rollercoaster,” Mangum said.
After joining the dogpile in the infield, Mangum dropped to his knees in emotion. He later climbed over the wall in center field and into the stands to celebrate with Mississippi State fans who had made the trip to Nashville to witness the latest wild chapter in the team’s postseason run.
Besides their stunning turnaround since midseason, the Bulldogs have weathered a number of storms in the postseason. They have won five consecutive elimination games — including one against No. 7 national seed Florida State when they were down to their last strike — and have won three games in their final at-bat.
The Bulldogs have also bounced back after losing to LSU in their SEC Tournament opener and getting drubbed 20-10 by Oklahoma in the first game of the Tallahassee Regional.
Now, they’ll get another fresh start in Omaha.
“It just is an incredible group of kids,” Henderson said. “It is the most resilient group I have been around as a coach. This is special. We have the best fans in the nation. They traveled and made this feel like a home game. Can’t say enough about how proud I am of this team and how proud I am to be their coach.”