Mississippi State University (17-16, 4-8 SEC) had failed to win a single SEC series coming into a rubber match on Sunday against the University of Mississippi (27-6. 7-5 SEC). They went to the 11th inning in order to decide the series, but MSU won it 7-5.
The defense played a major part in the win, as MSU did not commit a single error in the game.
“You have to be really pleased with our team defense,” head coach Gary Henderson said. “Of course with 11 innings, we only had five punchouts. A lot of outs if you do the math, 28 times we had to get an out."
The team needed their strong defense when Ole Miss almost scored a run, but Jake Mangum, a junior center fielder from Pearl, gunned him down at the plate.
Marshall Gilbert, a junior catcher from Trevor, Wisconsin, received a lot of praise from Mangum, as the catcher helped keep a run from scoring with a great tag.
“That was awesome,” Mangum said. “Gilbert had a great day yesterday, I think he went like three for four, he has been great behind the plate. We have two catchers who alternate playing time, that have both done a really good job behind the plate.”
MSU’s rally back from a one-run deficit started in the bottom of the seventh with a run scoring on an error from a bunt, and then one scored on a double play and pushed MSU into the lead.
Ole Miss then took a five to four-run lead in the top of the ninth with a pair of sacrifice flies. However, MSU responded with a Jake Mangum single to right field, which would tie the game. Extra innings caused MSU to need pitcher Blake Smith, a senior from Fort Payne, Alabama, to come in and pitch three scoreless innings to get the win.
“Got to be pleased with what Blake did, coming out of the pen in three scoreless,” Henderson said. “Then pretty much were in complete control, and then giving us a chance to throw out the guy at second base.”
Henderson said he was pleased with how Tanner Poole, a senior outfielder from Amory, hit the ball, but the most impressive stat line is Mangum's. He had five hits in five at bats, and scored four times, while also driving in a run. Mangum said the ball essentially had eyes, and found its way to the right spots.
“Happened to find some holes, you know,” Mangum said. “Swinging was the same, and same approach. I just happened to find some holes.”
It would not be a series win if Luke Alexander, a junior shortstop from Belmont, had not stepped up to the plate at the right time. With Mangum on base, Alexander smashed a fastball to left field to walk it off in the bottom of the 11th.
“As soon as it came off of the bat, it felt really good,” Alexander said. “I was looking fastball out over the plate and he left it over the plate, and I took advantage of it.”
Alexander said it was absolutely the biggest hit of his career, as his blast not only won an extra innings SEC rubber match, but it also came against in-state rivals Ole Miss in a hard-fought game.
“Growing up as a Mississippi kid, you are always choosing between Mississippi State and Ole Miss,” Alexander said. “I chose Mississippi State, and hit a walk-off against Ole Miss, it is just a surreal moment.”
The team is four wins away from being right back at .500 in SEC play, and a game like this could be the kick-start they needed to turn the corner. MSU is currently in last place, one game behind Auburn and two games behind Ole Miss.
“Coach Henderson was talking about how this point in the year, people can kick start things,” Alexander said. “Start winning ball games, and turn their whole season around. I felt like that is a good way to end the game, and to just keep rolling with it.”
MSU will play Alabama State University on Wednesday, and then Auburn University this weekend at Auburn.