OMAHA, Neb. – In a season full of history helped written by Ethan Small, he’s wrote his name in the top spot of the record books and on the biggest stage of college baseball Sunday night.
It was a game in which the Mississippi State ace pitcher was saddled with a no-decision and it wasn’t his best performance in the magical season he’s put together, but he had plenty of dominating moments. Small struck out eight batters in five innings to pass former Bulldog Eric DuBose for the single-season strikeout record.
DuBose held the record of 174 for 22 years, but Small now sits at the top all of the great pitchers in MSU baseball with 176. DuBose reached out to Small before the game to wish him good luck.
“It’s pretty special,” Small said. “I definitely didn’t think it would happen. Eric DuBose told me that he hopes that I hold it for the next 22 years. I thanked him and told him I appreciated the support. It’s an incredible moment.”
Small was dominating the game through the first 1.2 frames. He struck out each of the first five batters he faced with only a couple of foul balls to Auburn’s credit. The Tigers got something going with two outs in the second with an infield single and then Edourad Julien hit the second longest home run in TD Ameritrade Park history to right field.
The junior lefthander gave up just one more hit the rest of the way, but it also came from the bat of Julien on two strikes the next time up in the fourth inning. With an elevated pitch count, Small couldn’t go past the fifth inning, but the offense is giving him some hope that he could pitch at least one more time as a Bulldog.
Thanks to the game-winning hit from Marshall Gilbert, the Bulldogs (52-13) are in the winner’s bracket and the chances increase that Small will get one more start at the least. He’ll do so carrying the fifth most strikeouts in a single season in Southeastern Conference history.
“It’s a relief,” Small said of another potential start. “You know that you have another chance to go out there and improve some things and work on yourself.”
Luke Alexander stood at first base this time as a coach, but there might have been some magic still left in him from last season that rubbed off on his former teammates.
A year to the day that the shortstop dropped a hit over the head of the right fielder from Washington in Omaha last season, the Bulldogs got another walk off. Third baseman Marshall Gilbert delivered this one in what was one of the wildest ninth innings that the CWS has ever seen.
It was the first time since 2008 that a team has scored four or more runs in the final inning when LSU beat Rice. The Bulldogs had left 11 runners on base in the first eight frames but got the job done in clutch fashion on Sunday for the 28th come-from-behind win of the season and the third walk-off hit.
State had 12 hits in the game, but it wasn’t until the ninth that it had extra-base hits. Jake Mangum started the ninth with a double and MacNamee brought him home with one of his own that cut the lead to 4-2. It was Mangum’s 23rd double of the season and his 72nd of his career, which passed Travis Chapman for the all-time record.
MSU was the first team of the first two days to win after the opposing team scored first.
Senior Cole Gordon made the decision to return to MSU for his senior season instead of giving up baseball and he continues to be a big reason why the Bulldogs advance in the postseason.
Gordon pitched for the sixth time in six games in the postseason on Sunday and threw up another scoreless outing. He’s thrown eight innings in the NCAA Tournament with just three hits surrendered, no runs, two walks and 15 strikeouts. He gave up a hit and struck out the side against Auburn.
It was a little change of scenery for Gordon, who has spent the postseason pitching with a lead. He entered the ninth with a 4-1 deficit, but he held Auburn down to make sure State could come back.
“I think the situation is even more amplified there,” Gordon said. “Those are pitches where you have to make them because if the game gets more out of hand, it could have changed the game and the feeling in the stadium. I needed to keep the momentum that we had been building throughout the game. I’m just happy that I was able to go out there and do my part.”
Gordon earned the win to move to a perfect 5-0 for the year and he lowered his earned run average to 3.67. While this postseason has been impressive, his work dating back to last year has been even more mind boggling. Gordon has thrown 23.2 consecutive innings without an earned run in the last two postseasons. That’s 12 games in which Gordon has thrown in big games without surrendering a run and he’s struck out 33 batters and had three saves.
Looking for a reason why he returned?
“I think it’s these guys,” Gordon said. “That’s the main reason I came back is to be with them. They’ve been with me when I’m down and they’ve been with me when I’m up. I was hoping tonight that I could go out there and get three outs.”