Good day at park: Bulldogs pound Sooners to earn regional title shot

Mississippi State's Tanner Allen celebrates his home run with Jake Mangum.
Staff Writer

Rowdey Jordan watched as his long fly ball to right field sailed into the Tallahassee night on Sunday.

Jordan got all of it. His slow trot out of the left-handed-hitter’s batter’s box indicated as such. When the baseball landed on the other side of the outfield wall, Mississippi State had a three-run lead in the third inning over Oklahoma. More importantly, the Bulldogs were well on their way to a dominating 13-5 victory that pushes MSU into Monday’s championship game of the Tallahassee Regional.

“We were swinging it well all day (Sunday), put up a lot of runs, had a lot of good swings and this was just a really good day at the ballpark for us,” Jordan said.

It was just three days ago when the same Oklahoma team that MSU pounded on Sunday put the Bulldogs on the brink of elimination. The Sooners topped State 20-10 on Friday. Just like that, MSU was in the loser’s bracket. No matter to the Bulldogs. They’d been there before, just last year in fact.

The 2017 State squad lost the first game of the Hattiesburg Regional, then roared back to win four games in a row to move on.

The Bulldogs aren’t quite to that point yet. It’ll have to top Oklahoma one more time at noon today to clinch a berth in the super regionals. However here they are again on the verge of advancing after once looking left for dead.

“It’s all in the back of our heads, the memory of what it took last year in Hattiesburg,” MSU's Jake Mangum said. “Then again, at the end of the day, it’s a really new ballclub for us.”

In getting to this point, the Bulldogs (34-26) – with both the players that were around last year and the newcomers – left no doubt. Jordan played a big part in that. In addition to his big home run, which was part of an eight-run third inning, the freshman outfielder also had a single, a double and scored two runs. The rest of the MSU lineup pulled its share of the load too. Tanner Allen crushed a monstrous three-run homer. Mangum had three hits and drove in a pair.

In fact, every Bulldog in starting lineup had at least one hit.

“We had a lot of good offensive performances,” Mississippi State interim head coach Gary Henderson said. “We had good, quality, competitive at-bats all night.”

All the offense allowed the Bulldogs to do exactly what they needed to do heading into today’s championship game – rest the pitching staff. After four regional games, including one earlier Sunday in which MSU topped Samford 9-8, having as many Bulldog arms available as possible today is crucial.

Denver McQuary and Cole Gordon gave that opportunity to State. McQuary started and pitched three solid innings. He had to dance around trouble, but allowed just one run despite giving up five hits and three walks.
Gordon took care of the rest. The big right-hander took over in the fourth inning and went the rest of the way. He allowed four runs and seven hits, but pounded the zone and finished with 10 strikeouts over his six innings to save the Bulldog bullpen for Monday.

“From where we were after the first nine innings (in Tallahassee after giving up 20 runs to Oklahoma), to see where we are now and what we have available (pitching-wise), we’re in pretty good shape relatively speaking,” Henderson said.

Henderson was unsure late Sunday who’ll start today’s game on the mound for MSU, but the showdown is now set. Mississippi State will once again try to complete a magical run through a loser’s bracket to advance to a super regional. Should that happen, the Bulldogs would play Southeastern Conference foe Vanderbilt next weekend. The NCAA would be charged with determining whether that would be played at Vanderbilt or in Starkville.

For now, MSU doesn’t care about all that. There’s a game Monday. The Bulldogs scratched and clawed to get to it. Mangum says it’s the only one that matters.

“It’s just one game at the time,” Mangum said. “We’re going to stick to our approach. We’re going to play our ball and, Lord willing, win.”