Jake Mangum stepped up to the plate in the ninth inning for his last at-bat at Dudy Noble Field as a Bulldog. He took off his helmet and saluted the fans who were standing in recognition of his all-time hits leader title at Mississippi State University. Mangum waited as a banner in his honor, which had been unfurled over the right field wall, was taken back down.
He hit the first pitch between the shortstop and third-baseman—the exact way Mangum, a senior centerfielder from Pearl, said he got his first hit at Dudy Noble four years ago. The Bulldogs scored three runs in the ninth and defeated the Stanford University Cardinal 8-1 Sunday night in the Starkville Super Regional. It was the final game in Starkville this year.
Having already beaten the Cardinal Saturday night, the Bulldogs will be heading to their 11th College World Series in program history.
Mangum said there was no way to put into words his last at-bat as a Bulldog.
"That whole inning was God,” Mangum said.
The first inning saw the Cardinal take a one run lead off a solo-shot homerun in the first at-bat of the game. Stanford was unable to record another hit for six innings, as Peyton Plumlee, a senior pitcher from Olive Branch, Mississippi, pitched six innings and struck out six batters.
Plumlee said he had to keep himself from crying as he walked off the field for the last time.
“I took a deep breath. I looked around and took in the moment [after the homerun],'' Plumlee said. "I just told myself, 'This is not how I’m going out.'"
A triple in the bottom of the third inning gave the Bulldogs the lead.
A sharp, metallic ding alerted the Stanford right-fielder and center fielder to the hit off the bat of Dustin Skelton, a junior catcher from Olive Branch. The ball soared in the direction of the right field Tiki Lounge, and the two Stanford players collided as the ball landed between them on the warning track.
If either player had caught the ball, the inning would have ended with the game tied.
Instead, with three runs scored, the Bulldogs took a 4-1 lead which propelled them throughout the rest of the game. Skelton said he lives for that moment.
"I thrive for making that big play," Skelton said. "Bottom of the ninth, and we need a hit. With a man on third and two outs, I’m the guy you want at the plate."
Plumlee left the mound in the seventh inning to one of the night’s several standing ovations. He was replaced by Jared Liebelt, a senior pitcher from Aurora, Illinois, and after Liebelt pitched two innings, Cole Gordon, a graduate pitcher from Tampa, Florida, closed the game in the ninth inning.
The crowd of 11,597 witnessed several Bulldogs play in their last game at Dudy-Noble Field.
The ninth-inning banner had read “Mayor and Mac” (which referred to Mangum and fellow senior Elijah MacNamee, a right-fielder from Cypress, Texas, respectfully), “Thank you!” the banner read.
MacNamee launched a three-run homerun over the left field wall in his last at-bat in Starkville. He flipped his bat over the Cardinal catcher, pumped his fists and yelled at the top of his lungs. The first base umpire urged him to go ahead and round the bases.
Just five days earlier, the player who Bulldog fans have nicknamed "Big Hit Mac" learned he had not been selected by a team in the Major League Baseball draft. Mangum said that he believed MacNamee deserved to be picked.
"There’s 1,200 picks in the draft, and he doesn’t get drafted," Mangum said. "It’s a joke."
Mangum said MacNamee has been saying all week that God had him. MSU head coach Chris Lemonis said the last week has been tough for MacNamee, but he had showed up the day after the draft with a smile on his face urging his teammates forward.
"The game rewards that attitude," Lemonis said. "That homerun was pretty fitting. I just wish he hadn’t have thrown the bat over the catcher’s head."