NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jake Mangum, Luke Alexander, and Keegan James played key roles in the Mississippi State baseball team’s biggest victory of the season.
Alexander drove in the final two runs of MSU’s 10-6 victory against Vanderbilt in 11 innings in Game 3 of the NCAA tournament’s Nashville Super Regional. James recorded the final three outs, while Mangum was 2-for-6 with two runs scored and an RBI and threw out another runner at third base.
Yet when Mangum proposed that none of them was the most valuable player of the series, none of them disagreed. They were all willing to cede that honor to Cole Gordon.
Both of Gordon’s appearances in the Nashville Super Regional helped MSU earn the two wins it needed to advance. On Sunday, Gordon’s 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief bridged the gap from starting pitcher Jacob Billingsley to the later innings and helped send MSU to the College World Series.
“Cole Gordon was the MVP of this Super Regional. There’s no question. What he did was get us to Omaha,” Mangum said.
Said Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin, “Cole’s been very valuable to that team. He’s a gutty kid, and I think when you look at the win, he had a lot to do with it.”
On Friday, Gordon allowed one hit in 3 1/3 scoreless innings in a 10-8 victory. MSU interim coach Gary Henderson credited Gordon for bouncing back after he surrendered two hits and a walk in 13 pitches on Friday, June 1, in a 20-10 loss to Oklahoma in the opening game of the NCAA tournament’s Tallahassee Regional.
James knows the feeling. He didn’t pitch Friday, but he allowed two hits and walked one in 2/3 of an inning Saturday in a 4-3 loss. On Sunday, James needed only 12 pitches to seal the deal in a perfect 11th.
“I guess you could say I needed a little redemption, but it never crossed my mind,” James said. “It was time to go get it and win this thing.”
Alexander comes to life
In the final week of the regular season and the first week of the postseason, Alexander nearly had more hitless games (five) than he did hits (six).
But Alexander picked the perfect time to get hot. He ended the Nashville Super Regional with four hits, including a two-run bloop single to right field in the 11th that helped extend MSU’s lead to four.
“The at-bat before I didn’t feel like I was really aggressive, so right before (I went to the plate) I told Hunter Stovall I’m going to be aggressive on first-pitch fastball,” Alexander said. “That’s what I got and somehow it got out to right field.”
Chaos on the bases
With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Vanderbilt shortstop Connor Kaiser bounced a high chopper to third baseman Justin Foscue. Austin Martin broke from second base but he collided with Foscue, which prompted third base umpire Tony Norris to call interference before the go-ahead run scored.
Corbin didn’t see any controversy in the ruling.
“He ran into the fielder, broke a rule,” he said. “You have to give the fielder an opportunity to field the ball.”
With Konnor Pilkington’s six strikeouts Saturday, he and Ethan Small became the first two MSU pitchers to tally at least 100 strikeouts in the same season since 1999. Pilkington and Small make up the only Southeastern Conference pair to do it in 2018. Small goes to the College World Series with a team-leading 112 strikeouts, while Pilkington has 103.
On Sunday, MSU pitchers had 16 strikeouts, including seven by Billingsley and Gordon, each in 3 2/3 innings. The 16 strikeouts helped the Bulldogs match the second-highest mark of the season. MSU recorded 17 strikeouts March 2 against Louisiana.
For the series, MSU pitchers had 36 strikeouts.
Rowdey Jordan tied his career-high with three hits.
The freshman left fielder had two RBIs and scored a run. He finished the Super Regional with the best average of any
MSU hitter: 16-for-36 (.444).
With two hits, Jake Mangum extended his season-high hitting streak to 13 games. His raised his Southeastern Conference-leading hit total for the season to 97, which is tied for seventh on MSU’s all-time single season’s hit list with Tommy Raffo (1990).
Elijah MacNamee was hit by a pitch as part of an 0-for-5 night. It extended his career-high reached-base streak to 29 games.
Hunter Stovall had two hits to improve his career-high
reached-base streak to 23 games.
Jordan Westburg added two hits and a run scored to the Bulldogs’ 12-hit attack.
Both teams had plenty of chances Sunday, but the Commodores squandered a few more, stranding 17 runners, which was their most in a Super Regional game.
Vanderbilt also left the bases loaded three times Sunday.
In all, Vanderbilt stranded 35 runners in the three-game series.
MSU won a Super Regional for the third time and made history by winning the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament on the road.
The latest victory wrapped up a thrilling series that saw sold-out crowds, plenty of twists and turns, and 12 hours, 50 minutes of heart-churning baseball between Southeastern Conference rivals.
“You see it on their side and you see it on our side, there’s a lot of tough kids playing, and when it’s playoff baseball, no one wants to give in,” Corbin said.
Said Mangum, “Both teams deserve to be going to Omaha. Both teams were not going to take no for an answer.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson