STARKVILLE — Enduring the sting of a 9-0 loss to Ole Miss Saturday, Tanner Allen had a text message from former Mississippi State legend Jake Mangum waiting for him Sunday morning.
“We don’t lose to that team up there,” Mangum told Allen.
“I know,” the senior outfielder replied.
In the most pressure-filled situation of the weekend, Allen didn’t let his former teammate down and contributed the biggest hit of No. 4 MSU’s 7-5 rubber match victory over No. 6 Ole Miss.
Stepping in to face Ole Miss shutdown reliever Tanner Broadway with the bases loaded in a tie game with two outs in the sixth inning, Allen intensified his focus.
“This is who you want up (in that spot),” Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis said.
Not wanting to let Broadway set the tone of the at-bat with his overpowering fastball, Allen worked a 2-0 count, set dead red and lived out a moment he won’t soon forget.
Allen drilled a center cut heater from Broadway that split the gap, sending the 10,522 fans attending Dudy Noble Field into a frenzy as three MSU runners scampered home, giving the Bulldogs the lead for good. Allen, holding his breath rounding second trying for his second triple in the series, leapt up with an emphatic celebratory roar in the direction of his dugout after seeing the third base umpire raise his hands in a “safe” motion.
“I knew once I got up 2-0, he didn’t want to walk the go-ahead run in,” Allen said. “So I knew he was going to give me something. All I did was gear up for the fastball, made a good swing and the rest is history.”
The win marks the fifth straight series win for the Bulldogs over the Rebels (26-10, 9-6 SEC) and is the 16th win in their last 19 tries against their archrival. MSU (27-8, 10-5) also moves into sole possession of second place in the SEC West, trailing Arkansas by one game.
“It means a lot to our guys,” Lemonis said. “There’s a lot of pride in this team. You look at our roster and there’s so many kids here from Mississippi. It’s a big deal here. I think a lot of that was Jake Mangum built that up and took a lot of pride in this series. That’s one of the best teams we’ve played this year, I tip my hat to them because those were two hard-fought games.”
But Allen’s hit wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the clutch performances of the bottom third of Mississippi State’s order, a unit that had scuffled for most of the series.
Trailing by two runs entering the sixth, Josh Hatcher, Brayland Skinner and Scotty Dubrule — all of whom came into Sunday with batting averages below .270 — came through with singles off the Ole Miss bullpen, erasing the two-run deficit and setting the stage for Allen’s heroics.
“We need those guys,” Lemonis said. “We need those guys if we’re going to go on a run. It was nice to see them contribute this afternoon.”
One day after Ole Miss starter Doug Nikhazy held the Bulldogs to one hit in Saturday’s win, MSU responded with 12 hits, with leadoff hitter Rowdey Jordan recording a third of them.
“It had been a tough weekend for the most part offensively,” Lemonis said. “You have to tip your cap to Ole Miss. We ran into some really good arms and guys were scuffling a little bit. We talk all the time, it’s the sign of a good player if you can be 0-for-3 and still get a hit in that fourth at-bat. That’s what a lot of our at-bats were at the end of the game.”
For the first time all year, Lemonis turned to lights-out closer Landon Sims to record a save for the second time in a three-game weekend series. As Sims warmed up in the bullpen, a small collective group of MSU fans began to cheer. As he strutted out to the mound, those cheers became considerably louder.
“It’s a really cool thing for them to want that,” Sims said. “When I was jogging out and the stadium got louder, I literally got chill bumps on my arms. Not many places are going to be like that.”
The tying run came to the plate after an error, but other than that, Sims had a pretty stress-free ninth for his second save in three days.
“I’ve been ready to go twice in a weekend for a month now,” Sims said. “We’ve been playing good on Sundays to where there’s not a save situation there, so hats off to the offense for saving my arm a bit.”
Over a three day stretch, MSU drew 34,151 fans, the second largest weekend attendance in program history.
The Bulldogs are back in action in a midweek contest Tuesday against UAB at home.
Hodge is the former sports editor for The Dispatch.