STARKVILLE — As Dudy Noble Field erupted around him, Lane Forsythe jogged toward second base.
The Mississippi State shortstop met second baseman Scotty Dubrule a few steps to the third-base side of the bag, whooping it up in celebration.
Seconds earlier, it was Forsythe who had made the final out of Monday’s game against Campbell, scooping up a hard grounder from the Camels’ Zach Neto and firing it to first base.
The play, which wrapped up a 6-5 Mississippi State win to send the Bulldogs (43-15) to the Super Regional round, was a reminder of all that went into an undefeated weekend at the NCAA Starkville Regional.
The junior-college transfer who came out of the bullpen to keep the Bulldogs afloat. The struggling freshman who put them ahead. The lockdown reliever who made sure they stayed there.
And Forsythe — the freshman, the No. 9 hitter, 0-for-3 on the night, 0-for-11 on the weekend — sending the Bulldogs on to their fifth straight Super Regional and a matchup with No. 10 national seed Notre Dame this weekend in Starkville.
“That’s baseball, man,” senior right fielder Tanner Allen said. “The ball always finds you.”
On Monday, it found left-hander Houston Harding when the Bulldogs needed him most. After freshman Jackson Fristoe allowed a three-run home run and hit a batter with one out in the first inning, the Itawamba Community College import took the ball and shut the Camels down. He struck out two hitters in the first, fanned three in the third after loading the bases with nobody out and finished with 10 strikeouts as he pitched into the sixth.
“When he’s rolling like that, it’s always going to be a good day,” reliever Landon Sims said.
Harding, who was charged with two runs when Preston Johnson allowed a sixth-inning single with two men in scoring position, said he feels equally comfortable starting or coming out of the bullpen. He has been effective in several piggyback appearances behind Fristoe the past several weeks.
“Whether it’s the third, the fourth or the sixth, I’m always going to be ready to take the ball and run with it,” Harding said.
Sims, of course, has always had that same mentality. Beckoned from the bullpen to start the bottom of the seventh — the Bulldogs were the road team per NCAA Regional rules — the sophomore, prepared for an extended outing, delivered.
He kept Mississippi State’s 6-5 lead intact through three innings of work that weren’t always easy. Campbell’s Lawson Harrill “ambushed” a fastball for a pinch-hit double to begin the ninth, making the right-hander bear down to secure the save.
Sims struck out leadoff man Bryce Arnold, induced a groundout from Connor Denning and got Campbell star Zach Neto to scorch a ball to shortstop — right at Forsythe’s waiting glove. The freshman fired to first baseman Josh Hatcher, who pumped his fist in joy after securing the final out.
“Thank God he was still in the game, because we’d probably be changing uniforms and getting ready to go out here in a little bit if we didn’t,” Allen said of Forsythe.
The Bulldogs’ late-game offense almost made that a reality as Mississippi State failed to score in each of the final four innings. But the early tallies proved to be enough.
Kamren James’ two-run home run in the third inning put the Bulldogs up 4-3, giving them the lead for good. The freshman third baseman also had a first-inning double to score center fielder Rowdey Jordan for the game’s first run.
James was named the Starkville Regional MVP after finishing the weekend 5 for 11 with seven RBIs.
“I know he hasn’t been playing the best that he can play or as well as he would want to play the last couple weeks, but this weekend, he turned it on,” Allen said. “He’s been catching a lot of flak from people because his game’s not where they want it to be, but this weekend, man, it was there. He silenced all the haters. I love it.”
Left fielder Brad Cumbest scored on a wild pitch in the fourth inning, and catcher Logan Tanner hit a solo homer in the fifth. The Bulldogs finished with 10 hits Monday, and coach Chris Lemonis praised their efforts all weekend — not only at the plate.
“I feel we’re in a really good spot,” Lemonis said. “We played really good baseball most of these games.”
Fristoe’s shaky start was perhaps the only concerning moment of the weekend for the Bulldogs, as Lemonis said he hoped to coax the freshman through three innings against the Camels. But with Harding ready to go, Lemonis and pitching coach Scott Foxhall were ready to make the move when Fristoe ran into trouble.
Lemonis said he’s not sure who will be a potential third starter for the Bulldogs behind Christian MacLeod and Will Bednar in Super Regionals. He said the team has confidence in Harding taking the ball but will have to look at matchups to make the choice.
“We haven’t found that real piece yet, but he could be one of those guys,” Lemonis said.
Whoever Mississippi State throws will have to bring his A game against a potent Notre Dame offense that scored 50 runs in just three South Bend Regional games. The schedule for the weekend series in Starkville has yet to be set, but the Fighting Irish (33-11) won’t make it easy on the Bulldogs.
“There’s not an easy Super Regional in the country, and we feel like we’ve got one of the hottest teams in the country coming in here,” Lemonis said.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.