Seventh walk-off win of the season has Bulldogs sitting pretty at CWS

Published 5:04 pm Sunday, June 17, 2018

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Mississippi State’s flair for the dramatic continued in its College World Series opener.

Luke Alexander’s drive to right field got past Christian Jones in the bottom of the ninth inning, allowing Hunter Stovall to score from second base to give Mississippi State a 1-0 victory over Washington on Saturday night.

Of the Bulldogs’ seven wins in the NCAA Tournament, three have come in walk-off fashion and a fourth on their final at-bat. They have seven walk-off wins for the season, and Alexander has had the game-winning hit in three of them.

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“We’ve been through a lot this year, and when situations like that come up, we as a whole team have full confidence in whoever is at the plate and that it’s going to happen,” Stovall said. “Coach (Gary) Henderson has made us be dogs. He’s made us grinders. We get in the box and have full confidence we’re going to get this done.”

The victory sends the Bulldogs (38-27) into a winners’ bracket game Monday night against North Carolina, which beat Oregon State 8-6 on Saturday. Pac-12 rivals Oregon State and Washington will play an elimination game Monday afternoon.

“As ornery as Mississippi State was and as talented as they are, if you saw the scenario we had at Cal State Fullerton (in the super regional), I think our guys believe they can find a way to get back in this thing,” Washington coach Lindsay Meggs said. “And I think it prepared us really well for what we’re looking at having lost the first game. And we’ve had our backs against the wall for seven weeks.”

Stovall and Elijah MacNamee singled leading off the ninth against Andy Hardy (5-3). After Justin Foscue fouled out on a bunt try, Alexander hit an 0-2 slider deep to right. Jones was playing shallow and gave chase, but he couldn’t catch up to the ball as it bounced to the wall. Stovall easily scored, prompting players to pour out of the Mississippi State dugout and celebrate on the grass behind third base.

“Playing for three years now, you kind of experience things like that,” Alexander said. “Being my junior year, you just relax. When you’re younger, you tense up. Me being a junior and really seeing the game so long has helped me.”

Meggs said he had no second thoughts about playing his outfield in with the winning run on second base.

“We weren’t going to let anything fall in front of us,” he said. “That’s the percentage play and what we talked about doing before the game. The guy put a good swing on it. I don’t know if we catch it wherever we are.”

Starters Ethan Small of the Bulldogs (38-27) and Joe DeMers of Washington (35-25) traded zeroes through seven fast-paced innings that were a sharp contrast to the earlier game between North Carolina and Oregon State. The Tar Heels and Beavers played for 4 hours and 28 minutes, the longest nine-inning game in College World Series history.

“I guess if you’re a fan you watched both, you’re probably appreciative of the effort out there at 2:44 — considerably less than the first game today,” Mississippi State coach Gary Henderson joked.

DeMers threw strikes on 19 of his first 22 pitches and held the Bulldogs scoreless even though their leadoff man reached base in four of the first five innings. DeMers was helped by two double plays and some sharp fielding by shortstop Levi Jordan, who made a couple of diving stops and came up throwing to get runners at first.

The Huskies had the bases loaded with one out in the third, but Nick Kahle hit into a double play. They also had runners in scoring position in the second and sixth innings but couldn’t break through.

JP France took over for Small and pitched a 1-2-3 eighth, and Cole Gordon got one out in the ninth before Henderson called on Zach Neff (4-3) to come in with a runner on first for a lefty-lefty matchup with slugger Joe Wainhouse. Neff struck out Wainhouse and got AJ Graffanino to ground out to end the inning.

Mississippi State pitchers allowed only six hits to a Washington club that had been batting .332 in the NCAA Tournament.

“Our staff gave up four hits through the first eight innings. That’s impressive, really proud of those kids and our effort. And made pitches when it really mattered and when the game was tight, obviously,” Henderson said. “Three kids came in out of the pen and got guys out. So I’m really proud of our group. And to bounce back after the disappointment of the bunt there in the ninth and to show up and make solid contact was really impressive.”

1 p.m. ESPN – Oregon State vs. Washington
6 p.m. ESPN – Mississippi State vs. North Carolina