Alexander the great: MSU shortstop delivers once again in walk-off fashion against Ole Miss

MSU's Luke Alexander, right
SDN staff writer

Standing in the on-deck circle in the bottom of the ninth on Tuesday night, Mississippi State’s Luke Alexander watched on as Ole Miss intentionally walked Jake Mangum, who represented the winning run in the annual Governor’s Cup game.

It didn’t sit well with Alexander.

“It (ticked) me off,” Alexander said. “I know (Mangum) is the best hitter in the SEC and has been for 2 years, but the way I looked at it was disrespect to me, saying I wouldn’t be able to get it done. I just took that into the at-bat.”

Alexander took that anger and used it to smash a walk-off double into the right-centerfield gap at Trustmark Park as MSU defeated No. 6 Ole Miss 7-6. It was Alexander’s second walk-off hit against the Rebels in less than three weeks. He also hit a game-ending homer against the Rebels on April 8.

“I’ve been dreaming about (getting walk-off hits) since I was 4-years-old starting baseball,” Alexander said. “For it to actually happen against our rival, Ole Miss, it’s just a surreal moment.”

Alexander’s heroics helped Mississippi State (23-19) continue its late-season resurgence, as well as the Bulldogs’ mastery of some of the nation’s top teams. MSU is now 9-4 since the calendar turned to April after starting the season 14-15. The Bulldogs are an astounding 6-1 against teams currently ranked among the country’s top seven clubs, going 3-0 against No. 7 Arkansas and now 3-1 against sixth-ranked Ole Miss.

“We’re in a different spot now,” MSU head coach Gary Henderson said. “That doesn’t guarantee anything moving forward, but we are clearly at a different spot than where we were in early or late March.

“You have to keep playing well, there’s no question, but we’ve put ourselves in position to play well and reap the benefits.”

Where Mississippi State’s season goes from here remains to be seen, but on Tuesday, the Bulldogs certainly looked like a team heating up for a postseason run. The heroes of the contest were many as MSU locked down its third-consecutive Governor’s Cup win over the Rebels (32-10).

Keegan James pitched a scoreless 2.1 frames over the middle innings that allowed Mississippi State the chance to turn a 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 lead before the Bulldogs surrendered the advantage and needed the late comeback.

Marshall Gilbert came through with a 3-for-4 night that included a homer, as well as the single that started MSU’s decisive ninth-inning rally.

It was Mangum that gave the Rebels the biggest headache, just as he’s done throughout his career. Mangum went 1-for-4 at the plate, including a two-run double. Over his three years with the Bulldogs, Mangum is now 22-for-51 (.431 batting average) lifetime against Ole Miss with six doubles and seven RBI. It was those numbers that caused the Rebels to intentionally walk Mangum in the ninth inning.

After Ole Miss scored a pair of runs in the top of the ninth to take a 6-5 lead in the game, Gilbert’s single started the bottom half for the Bulldogs. Jordan Anderson pinch ran for Gilbert and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Rowdey Jordan. Rather than give Mangum a chance to tie the game with a base hit, Ole Miss intentionally put Mangum aboard.

“Walking Jake Mangum is not a shock,” Henderson said of the Ole Miss strategy. “He’s an elite hitter. I certainly understood the move.”

Waiting on deck, Alexander was ready to make the Rebels pay for the decision.

“I knew Luke would get it done – that’s all I know,” Mangum said was going through his mind.

Mangum was right. On a 1-1 count, Alexander roped a baseball to the wall. Anderson and Mangum scored easily to set off a Mississippi State celebration.

“I knew what I was looking for and got a pitch out over the plate and drove it in the gap and beat them,” Alexander said.

It was a feeling Alexander was glad to experience again after his heroics against the Rebels earlier this month. The game didn’t count in the Southeastern Conference standings, but in MSU’s eyes, it was huge nonetheless.
The Bulldogs got to keep rolling and they got to do it at the expense of their biggest rival yet again.

“This game means a lot to us,” Mangum said. “You get up every time for it. You can say every game is just another game, but this means something. It’s a pride thing, it’s a rivalry thing and it’s a Luke Alexander thing now. It’s awesome. How about Luke?”