They say just one pitch or swing can make all the difference in baseball, and with the bases loaded, a freshman from New Braunfels, Texas, who hadn’t hit a home run since April 11, stepped up to the plate to prove the saying true.
“I put a good swing on it, caught a lot of barrel, and it is just an unbelievable feeling,” Jordan Westburg said. “I think I knew it was going off the bat, but with the wind blowing and bases loaded, just making sure it got out.”
Westburg hit a grand slam down two strikes in the count, but the moment meant a lot more to him after all he and the team have gone through this season.
“I think it’s something you always dream about, but imagining that, just with the way the season went, it is kind of hard to imagine something like that,” Westburg said. “It was unbelievable, it is a moment that every ballplayer wants to go through, and I was lucky enough to experience that.”
Mississippi State University was the road team in their second game of the College World Series against the University of North Carolina. A game which saw the second grand slam in CWS history at TD Ameritrade Park also saw MSU work through the lineup in the eighth inning en route to a 12-2 win.
The team was originally slated to play at 6 p.m. Monday, but a severe thunderstorm rained on the parade, moving it to Tuesday. MSU gave up the first run off of Konnor Pilkington, a junior pitcher from Hurley, in the first inning.
“I felt early on I was just trying to throw it,” Pilkington said. “In the first two innings, I feel like I left some balls up got behind in the count and they had opportunities, and I was lucky to get away with some pitches.”
Head coach Gary Henderson believed Pilkington and his defense worked well to get out of tight situations and keep the scoring to a minimum.
“I thought we did a really good job making pitches when it mattered,” Henderson said. “When the game got tight, Konnor (Pilkington) did a great job through six of making pitches when the game was in the balance or the inning was in the balance.”
Pilkington got the start for MSU, and pitched six innings, gave up six hits and two runs, while also earning a win for the first time since April 7. He had five straight scoreless innings from the second to the sixth inning.
“To the sixth inning I told myself I’m going to back off a little bit and sink a couple of pitches here and there,” Pilkington said. “Try to stay black to black and stay down in the strike zone, and I guess that really succeeded me.”
Cole Gordon came in to pitch in the bottom of the seventh after Pilkington gave up a triple. Gordon gave up one run, but recorded three straight outs to go to the top of the eighth up by two, and earned a save with three innings pitched and only giving up two hits.
Head coach of North Carolina, Mike Fox, said he was glad they can play one more game and not end the season with the game against MSU. He said the eighth inning was one coaches have nightmares about.
“Obviously our defense struggled today, and they took advantage of that, so we are going to have regroup quickly,” Fox said. “Again, I’m excited we get a chance to get back out here and play again.”
Cody Roberts, a junior catcher for North Carolina from Johns Creek, Georgia, talked about the nightmare inning UNC had, and what was going through his mind playing on the field.
“You are hoping for a double play there or something there to help us get some energy and out of the inning,” Roberts said. “They are well equipped, every team here is well equipped to take advantage of errors, and if we don’t play well, that is what is going to happen.”
MSU and Westburg put the icing on the banana cake with a 53-minute, eight-run eighth inning. Westburg tied the CWS record for most RBIs, with seven in the game. The last time this happened was in 2001, Westburg also gave some credit to the banana for today’s performance.
“I did expect to go out there and compete every at-bat in the box,” Westburg said. “I just fought well today and took advantage of a few miscues. I think we had a good banana today. I think that is all I can say about that."
Henderson was happy for Westburg’s performance, as he said it was a day Westburg and his family will remember for a long time. He described Westburg as a kid who is different than the goofball with the banana shown on TV broadcasts of the games.
“Jordan Westburg, my goodness, a double and gone and seven RBIs. You are proud of him,” Henderson said. “He is an intense kid. Super intense. He is not a goofball. When he finds a way to let some of the air out a little bit and enjoy it and have fun, and not maybe grind, grind, grind. I think it is incumbent upon us to notice that and respect that that is important.”
With the win, MSU is one win away from reaching the CWS final, and will play Friday against the winner of the UNC/Oregon State University game. Henderson said he will make sure the team is ready for whomever they play.
“We will practice each day. I will give them some free time, and they will be in bed by 10, or at least they will be in their room,” Henderson said. “I am going to do a really good job making sure they understand this thing is not even close to being over, and we will do the absolute best we can as a coaching staff to make sure that our kids are ready to go on Friday.”