OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Mississippi State’s flair for the dramatic continued in its College World Series opener.
Luke Alexander’s drive to right field got past Christian Jones in the bottom of the ninth inning, allowing Hunter Stovall to score from second base to give Mississippi State a 1-0 victory over Washington on Saturday night.
Of the Bulldogs’ seven wins in the NCAA Tournament, three have come in walk-off fashion and a fourth on their final at-bat.
“We’ve been through a lot this year, and when situations like that come up, we as a whole team have full confidence in whoever is at the plate and that it’s going to happen,” Hunter Stovall said. “Coach (Gary) Henderson has made us be dogs. He’s made us grinders. We get in the box and have full confidence we’re going to get this done.”
Stovall and Elijah MacNamee singled leading off the ninth against Andy Hardy (5-3). After Justin Foscue fouled out on a bunt try, Alexander hit an 0-2 slider deep to right. Jones was playing shallow and gave chase, but he couldn’t catch up to the ball as it bounced to the wall. Alexander easily scored, prompting players to pour out of the Mississippi State dugout and celebrate on the grass behind third base.
“Playing for three years now, you kind of experience things like that,” Alexander said. “Being my junior year, you just relax. When you’re younger, you tense up. Me being a junior and really seeing the game so long has helped me.”
Washington coach Lindsay Meggs said he had no second thoughts about playing his outfield in with the winning run on second base.
“We weren’t going to let anything fall in front of us,” he said. “That’s the percentage play and what we talked about doing before the game. The guy put a good swing on it. I don’t know if we catch it wherever we are.”
Starters Ethan Small of the Bulldogs (38-27) and Joe DeMers of Washington (35-25) traded zeroes through seven fast-paced innings.
DeMers threw strikes on 19 of his first 22 pitches and held the Bulldogs scoreless even though their leadoff man reached base in four of the first five innings. DeMers was helped by two double plays and some sharp fielding by shortstop Levi Jordan, who made a couple diving stops and came up throwing to get runners at first.
The Huskies had the bases loaded with one out in the third, but Nick Kahle hit into a double play. They also had runners in scoring position in the second and sixth innings but couldn’t break through.
JP France took over for Small and pitched a 1-2-3 eighth, and Cole Gordon got one out in the ninth before Bulldogs interim coach Gary Henderson called on Zach Neff (4-3) to come in with a runner on first for a lefty-lefty matchup with slugger Joe Wainhouse. Neff struck out Wainhouse and got AJ Graffanino to ground out to end the inning.
Mississippi State pitchers allowed only six hits to a Washington club that had been batting .332 in the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulldogs have seven walk-off wins for the season. Down to their last strike in a regional elimination game, MacNamee hit a walk-off homer to beat Florida State. MacNamee homered again in the bottom of the ninth to beat Vanderiblt in Game 1 of super regionals, and they scored four times in the top of the 11th to beat Vandy in the deciding Game 3.
NERVES NOT ISSUE
Washington is in the CWS for the first time, but Meggs said he didn’t sense nervousness among his players. He said they did get fidgety waiting in the clubhouse as the North Carolina-Oregon State game in the afternoon lasted 4 hours, 24 minutes for the longest nine-inning game in CWS history.
“I told one of the coaches I feel like I’m a substitute teacher in a third-grade class,” Meggs said. “Our guys were bouncing off the walls and doing everything you shouldn’t be doing when you are settling down and getting ready to play. With runners in scoring position, we didn’t take the at-bats we had been the last couple of weeks. We got jumpy.”
HE SAID IT
“I guess if you’re a fan you watched both, you’re probably appreciative of the effort out there at 2:44 — considerably less than the first game today.” — Henderson, on his team’s quick game following the 4 ½-hour opening game.
Mississippi State plays North Carolina on Monday in a Bracket 1 winners’ game. Washington plays Oregon State in an elimination game in the afternoon. North Carolina beat Oregon State 8-6.