Hoover, Ala. - This season’s rubber match goes to Mississippi State.
Playing its fourth game in four days at the Southeastern Conference Tournament, the 21st-ranked Mississippi State baseball team found its second wind and notched its sixth walk-off win of the season with a stunning 4-3, 10-inning victory over No. 2 LSU.
Matthew Britton’s RBI-single plated Mitch Slauter with the game-winning run in the home half of the 10th inning. The Bulldogs battled back from a 3-0 deficit in the eighth inning and won a game when trailing after eight complete innings for only the second time this season.
The longtime rivals were meeting for the 16th time in an SEC Tournament, fifth time this season and second time in this year’s event. The Bulldogs lost the first two before winning the final three meetings for the season, with Friday’s dramatics following a 3-2 win over the Tigers Wednesday.
MSU (37-22) will face Kentucky (43-15) in a noon semifinal matchup Saturday. LSU (43-16) will now await its postseason pairings when the NCAA announces those selections on Monday.
“Our kids competed hard,” MSU head coach John Cohen said, “We had some situations early where we didn’t score runs. But we have the right kids in the dugout. You can get frustrated, but you can’t lose focus. They competed their hearts out there this afternoon. I really love these kids. I love everything about them.”
The Bulldogs defeated LSU twice in the same conference tournament for the first time. This was the 10th time in an SEC Tournament where MSU has won three times. Building on one of their best finishes in school history, the Bulldogs have now won 14 of their last 19 games against conference opponents.
“We played so many freshmen today,” Cohen said. “We played just about everybody we had. What is amazing is we have so many players on this team they had no played in an SEC baseball game before this season. We took these freshmen and beat one of the premier teams in the nation for the second time in a week.”
Entering the tournament, the Tigers had won 13 of their last 14 games in this stadium. Other than a one-sided romp over Ole Miss, the Purple and Gold found this week they were no match for the Maroon side of the Magnolia State.
The heroes were numerous.
In only his fourth at-bat this season, Luis Pollorena drilled a game-tying sacrifice fly in the ninth inning. An inning later, Mitch Slauter, catching his fourth game in as many days, started things with a one-out double in the 10th inning. After a pitching change, final LSU hurler Nick Rumbelow was then greeted by Britton’s game-winner, a soft liner off the glove of second baseman JaCoby Jones.
“With Matthew Britton, you have a freshman hitting below .200, yet you have a tremendous amount of confidence in him,” Cohen said. “Every day, he takes good swings. He works so hard at the game. He is an athletic kid and he just out-competes people. Sometimes, it is not about the stroke, as much as it is about competing and finding a way.”
As expected, the Bulldogs were solid on the mound. LSU built an early 3-0 lead off MSU freshman left-hander Jacob Lindgren, who was making his first start. Lindgren was touched for a two-run single by Ty Ross in the first inning and an RBI-groundout by Austin Nola in the second inning.
From there, Lindgren regained his composure and worked a career-best 4.2 innings, allowing the Bulldogs to keep competing.
“Jacob pitched like a freshman in his first SEC Tournament game,” Cohen said. “But he is going to be such a great one for us. The credit goes to (pitching coach) Butch Thompson. After the first inning, Butch met him and told he was to tentative with the breaking ball. He told him to attack with the breaking ball and that would get us some swings out of the zone.
“Jacob did what all of our pitchers do, he competed.”
In relief, Caleb Reed took matters from there and worked through the eighth inning. Ross Mitchell retired the side in order in the ninth inning and Jonathan Holder (2-0) worked around MSU’s only error in a scoreless 10th inning.
Holder, a true freshman right-hander, has worked a school-record 26.1 innings without allowing a run. Bulldog pitching allowed no runs over the final eight innings and only allowed 14 runs in five games against the league’s regular season champion.
MSU finished with 10 hits, including Adam Frazier’s sixth three-hit game of the season. Frazier has hit safely in 49 of 59 games this season. Daryl Norris added his 10th multi-hit game of the season.
For the Bulldogs, an RBI-single by Hunter Renfroe broke up the shutout in the eighth inning. A lead-off double by Wes Rea swung the momentum for good in the home half of the ninth inning. An RBI-single by Frazier brought the Maroon and White within a run, and set the stage for Pollorena’s first career RBI.
LSU finished with eight hits. Mason Katz and Jordy Snikeris each had two hits. The league’s leading hitter Raph Rhymes was held hitless.
The Bulldogs beat LSU’s best on the mound. Starter Ryan Eades left after throwing six shutout innings. In relief, Chris Cotton allowed a run for the first time in his last 11 relief appearances. Ace closer Nick Goody (1-2) blew the save and took the loss.