STARKVILLE — Perched in the right field grass just below a Ford advertisement adorning on the wall at Dudy Noble Field, Tanner Allen peered down at the wording on his glove.
“It don’t matter.”
Allen had the words emblazoned on his mitt as a friendly reminder for days like Sunday. It didn’t matter that he’d started the day 0 for 4. It didn’t matter that Luis Aviles had obliterated a mammoth home run in the top of the ninth inning to put Tulane ahead. It didn’t matter that, on a weekend filled with MSU-induced blunders, the Bulldogs were just a strike away from losing their first home series since March of 2019.
It did matter, though, that Allen sat back on a hanging fastball from Tulane reliever Zach DeVito and laced the pitch into center field for a a two-out, two-run single that gifted MSU (5-2) its second walk-off win in as many days and with it, a series victory over the visiting Green Wave (3-4).
“Everything that happened before didn’t matter,” Allen said, delivering a sermon of sorts on a memorable Sunday in Starkville. “It was all about that moment right there. I was able to lock in and get it done.”
That Allen came through Sunday is to little surprise. Head coach Chris Lemonis called him one of the best pure hitters in college baseball. Freshman outfielder Drew McGowan described him as a leader for the younger players to follow. In sum, he’s an upperclassman who continues to cement himself into MSU lore amid a season that, under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t be playing in Starkville.
With the MLB draft shortened from 40 rounds to five, Allen is part of the well-documented junior class alongside Rowdey Jordan and Josh Hatcher that returned to MSU for one final season. Sunday, Allen added the most prolific contribution of the trio’s endeavors to date.
After a pair of walks were issued to McGowan and Jacksonville transfer Scotty Dubrule, a wild pitch from DeVito moved the pair to second and third. Following a loud lineout from Jordan, Allen stepped into the box and delivered another dramatic win for a ball club that has seen two of its five wins decided by one run and another finalized by a walk-off grand slam less than 24 hours prior.
“We got punched in the mouth in the top of the ninth,” McGowan said. “But you can’t ever count the Dawgs out. We’re going to punch back.”
Following an impressive four-inning start from freshman Jackson Fristoe, who was slotted into the weekend rotation after second-year freshman Will Bednar was scratched from his second consecutive start due to soreness in his shoulder, it was a dazzling display from third-year sophomore Brandon Smith that silenced the ever-barking Tulane bench for the bulk of Sunday’s contest.
Taking over for Carlisle Koestler in the sixth inning, Smith allowed three singles but worked his way to the end of the sixth and through the seventh inning.
As tensions ran high, notably when Tulane skipper Travis Jewett did everything but get tossed in an eighth inning outburst over a strike call, Smith strutted off the bump and screamed toward the Tulane dugout after striking out the side in the frame. Motioning at the Green Wave bench with his right arm and glove, his display drew a warning for both dugouts.
“It got really competitive,” Lemonis said. “You’ve got really talented athletes fighting at a really high level and competing and it did, it was a little chirpy today.”
With Smith’s pitch count climbing to 32 after 2.1 innings pitched, Lemonis sided with sixth-year senior closer Spencer Price in the ninth. Retiring the first two batters he faced, Price hung a fastball that Aviles sent into the deepest parts of the Left Field Lounge for the third mammoth Green Wave home run of the day.
As the boisterous Tulane bench exploded from its dugout, a sudden hush fell over the previously raucous Dudy Noble crowd. That is until Allen took the plate.
Now in his fourth year with the program, the Mobile, Alabama, native is no stranger to big moments. He’s the same player that tagged out a runner to send MSU to the College World Series in 2018. As a sophomore, he wept in the locker room beneath TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, vowing to bring the Bulldogs back to the precipice of a national title.
Racing around the outfield after teammates ripped the jersey off his chiseled chest, Allen and the black-uniformed Bulldogs did all but dogpile Sunday to cap off a weekend that felt as close to a NCAA tournament series as has been held in the 357 days since a home set last occurred at Dudy Noble Field.
As the mob of jerseys in center field dissipated, the gaggle of players remaining turned to the visiting bench and sent a chorus of waves in Tulane’s direction as the Green Wave exited the bench and headed toward a long bus ride back to New Orleans.
It didn’t matter that Allen hadn’t recorded a hit until Sunday’s ninth inning. It mattered plenty when his roped swing found a hole.
“I tell people, ‘Don’t give up on the Dawgs,'” Allen said. “Because we’re going to be there right till the end.”
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.
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