STARKVILLE — All Blake Smith could do was stare into right field.
The Mississippi State baseball junior right-handed pitcher watched as Arizona celebrated a walk-off RBI single to advance to the College World Series. Much like many of his teammates and the Bulldog fans in attendance, he was stunned. No. 6 national seed and fourth-ranked nationally MSU blew a four-run lead and lost 6-5 to Arizona in 11 innings in game two of the Starkville Super Regional to be eliminated from the NCAA tournament and end its season.
“It’s just disappointing. It’s disappointing that we came this far and didn’t finish it,” MSU sophomore outfielder Brent Rooker said as he tried to fight back tears.
The Bulldogs, who won the Southeastern Conference regular-season title, end the season 44-18-1. The Wildcats (44-21), who won game one 1-0 Friday night, are the first team to punch a ticket to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. It will be appearance No. 17 for Arizona.
With the bases loaded, Cesar Salazar took the 1-1 offering from Smith and singled through the right side to bring home Kyle Lewis. Smith (2-1) threw 2 1/3 innings. He gave up the one run on two hits. He walked two and struck out four of the nine batters he faced.
“Blake was phenomenal,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “Blake Smith came in and did a great job for us.”
MSU, who took a 5-4 lead into the ninth inning, was 40-0 when leading after eight innings. But Arizona tied things at 5 in the ninth on RBI single from Alfonso Rivas. He blooped one in to left field and Cody Ramer scored easily from second to tie the game. Smith came on for Reid Humphreys and he struck out Bobby Dalbec for the second out. He then got Cesar Salazar to ground out to leave the bases loaded.
“I’m proud of all of our guys,” Bulldog starter Austin Sexton said. “We battled the entire game. We made some mistakes, but that’s baseball.”
Sexton threw 5 1/3 innings and gave up one run, a home run by Dalbec, on seven hits. He walked one and struck out six. MSU was leading 3-1 when he left in the sixth.
Leading 5-1 in the eighth, MSU let Arizona pull within one. Ryan Aguilar hit a three-run home run off Ryan Rigby to make it 5-4.
“I think that was a game changer,” Cohen said. “He just left one up and that ball left the ballpark.”
Daniel Brown came in and allowed a single. Humphreys relieved Brown and gave up a single to Dalbec. Humphreys then struck out Salazar and Jared Oliva. He got Louis Boyd to ground to strand two.
MSU got two solo home runs and an RBI single from Brent Rooker, an RBI sacrifice fly out from Gavin Collins and an RBI double from Jake Mangum to build a 4-1 lead. Mangum’s double came in the seventh as the Bulldog offense gave the bullpen a cushion.
MSU’s last hit was Rooker’s second home run in the eighth. Rooker was taken out for Mike Smith in the bottom of the eighth for defensive purposes. Cohen didn’t expect Rooker to come back up and he took full responsibility for pulling his hottest hitter.
Like Rooker, Cohen was emotional. But he gave the Wildcats credit.
“Our hats go off to Arizona,” Cohen said. “They have a really good club and they’re well coached. They came in here in a difficult environment and played well.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.