A fastball on the outside of the plate was belted to the right center field wall by Elijah MacNamee, a senior right fielder from Cypress, Texas, driving in two runs to give the Diamond Dawgs a go-ahead lead off of a double. A lead they would hold onto to as they would win 10-9 over The University of Memphis.
"Big hit Mac, I haven’t thought that about myself in a while," MacNamee said. "Everyone else around me has been picking me up lately. So, that gave me a big confidence boost that I needed. I got that feeling like I was ready to roll again."
The late game heroics from MacNamee marked his comeback from a poor weekend in College Station, Texas against Texas A&M University, as well as Mississippi State University’s completed comeback from a seven-run deficit in the first inning.
MSU came into the game having won just two of the last five meetings with the Tigers, and things did not look so great, as seven runs came across the plate for the Tigers in the first inning.
Part of the issue with the tough start was Keegan James, a junior pitcher from Southaven, Mississippi, who struggled early on the mound with the command of his fastball as he continued to miss pitch locations, walking four batters before being pulled from the game. James gave up six earned runs, but head coach Chris Lemonis said he thinks it was just a bad night for him, as Lemonis said the pitching staff needs Keegan.
"Keegan is very talented, he just didn’t pitch well enough for us tonight," Lemonis said. "The game kind of sped up on him there as things went against him. We need them all, we need Keegan. He was part of that big run to Omaha last year."
The team came back into the dugout inbetween the top and bottom half of the first inning with a big mountain to climb, but Tanner Allen, an infielder from Theodore, Alabama, said the team knew it had plenty of time to catch back up with Memphis.
The team did just that, battling back and even taking the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, but they needed a rally in the bottom of the eighth to take the lead once and for all and close the game out with MacNamee’s clutch hit.
"We never really panicked. You are going to have to beat us all nine (innings) to really beat us," Allen said. "Mac stuck with it. You can’t carry one at-bat into another and he didn’t. He hit an absolute missile into right center there."
The spark for the comeback came from the barrel of Marshal Gilbert, a senior catcher from Kenosha, Wisconsin, who sent a ball 390 feet into left center field with an exit velocity of 106 miles per hour; the home run blast really made the game more manageable in the fifth inning.
Allen said the home run bomb really showed all of the effort Gilbert has put into improving his hitting this season. Gilbert finished the night with two hits and three runs batted in his four at-bats, and sparked the flame fueling the comeback.
"The bomb really got us some momentum and we took off from there," Allen said. "(We are) solid one through nine. That is one thing about our line up, if I’m not hitting someone else is going to pick us up. So we have a pretty solid one through nine."
The midweek victory comes as an appetizer for a series in Oxford against the University of Mississippi with a two game bye on the line for the SEC baseball tournament. Allen said while the Bulldogs won the first game against Ole Miss this year, this series is still going to be tough, as he said the Rebels will be out for blood.
Lemonis said the series will be a war, with each game a nine inning battle. The Bulldogs will march north to Oxford with the hot bats of MacNamee and Allen; only the threat of rain can damper things.
"It is a really good team, and we are a good team It is going to be a really fun weekend,” Lemonis said. "Hopefully we can stay dry. Their lineup is one of the best in the country, so we are going to have to be ready to go."