Elijah MacNamee still gives hitting lessons.
Whenever the former Mississippi State outfielder is asked by his young pupils about his time with the Bulldogs, MacNamee is always happy to show them some of the wildest games from his days in Starkville.
One of them is never far from his mind: MSU’s College World Series opener against Auburn in June 2019 in front of 25,000 screaming fans, a game that produced a stunning comeback and a classic ending.
MacNamee often pulls up the video on YouTube or watches it if he comes across it on Twitter, transporting himself back to that unmatched Omaha atmosphere.
Ahead of the Bulldogs’ weekend road series against the Tigers, MacNamee reflected on the events of that night — and his starring role — in a contest that can only be summed up one way.
“That game,” he said simply, “was crazy.”
Only three runs
When MacNamee and the Bulldogs first went to the CWS in 2018, the junior simply tried to take everything in. Warming up pregame in right field, MacNamee caught a toss from center fielder Jake Mangum and performed a 360-degree spin, looking at the packed stands of TD Ameritrade Park.
“I felt like a kid — my whole dreams that I’d been working hard for were there,” he said.
MacNamee’s three-run, walk-off home run against Florida State in NCAA Regional play had kept the Bulldogs alive. They won three more games, took two of three from Vanderbilt in Super Regionals and headed into Omaha with a 37-27 record.
Mississippi State beat Washington 1-0 in that opening game on a walk-off double by Luke Alexander, and three days later, the Dawgs whipped North Carolina 12-2.
But MSU dropped the next two games to eventual champion Oregon State. The Bulldogs’ run to Omaha was over.
Undeterred, MacNamee and MSU made it back the following summer. With a “disgusting” lineup No. 1 through No. 9 and a strong pitching staff led by Ethan Small, the Bulldogs won five straight games to earn a berth in the 2019 CWS.
In that first game against Auburn, though, Small struggled. In the second inning, he allowed a two-run homer to Tigers third baseman Edouard Julien that sailed “8,000 feet” over MacNamee’s head in right — one of the longest homers the outfielder can remember. Julien added a run with a single to center in the third.
Mississippi State couldn’t do the same. The Bulldogs left a runner on in the first inning, two in the second, another in the fourth. In the fifth, Auburn escaped a jam when MacNamee hit “literally the worst little pop-up” foul to first baseman Rankin Woley. MacNamee singled up the middle against Cody Greenhill in the seventh, but MSU still trailed, 3-1.
“I can remember so much about that game in my head,” MacNamee said. “I can remember every at-bat I had.”
Auburn added a run in the eighth inning, and the Tigers headed to the bottom of the ninth with a 4-1 lead. In the visiting dugout, the mood was surprisingly optimistic.
“That’s only three runs,” the Bulldogs told themselves.
“We were such a good offense,” MacNamee said. “We knew we were capable of getting three runs really fast.”
‘There’s no way’
When Mangum led off the inning by lashing a double to the wall in right field, MacNamee knew: Something crazy was coming.
He voiced three words in the middle of the dugout: “Here we go.”
After Tanner Allen drew a walk, MacNamee came up against Tanner Burns and got jammed hard on a fastball. He squeaked it down the left-field line, scoring Mangum and ending up on second. MacNamee said he “blacked out” for a moment as he stood on the bag, the tying run coming to the plate.
Justin Foscue brought home Allen with a grounder, and the Bulldogs were down just one run with two away.
Then Dustin Skelton chopped a pitch on the ground to third base. Leading off second, MacNamee saw Julien glove the baseball.
“Game over,” he thought.
But Skelton wasn’t out at first just yet, and MacNamee still had a say. He took off for third, trying to make something happen.
Around halfway to the base, MacNamee said, his eyes locked with Julien’s as he prepared to cross in front of the third baseman, realizing he had space to run.
MacNamee performed a faint, barely perceptible stutter-step. Julien hesitated. He took another step. And he sailed the baseball over the head of Woley at first base.
“I remember rounding third and seeing the ball in the air and thinking, ‘There’s no way,’” MacNamee said.
After Rowdey Jordan was intentionally walked, Josh Hatcher’s infield single loaded the bases. Marshall Gilbert’s chopper up the middle went off Burns’ glove, and second baseman Ryan Bliss couldn’t field it in time. Skelton raced home with the winning run, and Mississippi State had finished its comeback.
“Things happened to go our way in the ninth inning,” MacNamee said. “The baseball gods were in our favor.”
Still No. 1
In still shots from the video of Julien’s fateful error, the third baseman and MacNamee appear close together on the basepaths. Very close.
“It really looks like he could have just tagged me,” MacNamee said. “But when we made eye contact, it was more like, ‘Hurry up and get past me so I can get this out at first.’”
MacNamee won’t claim sole responsibility for causing the error nor winning the game — it was “100 percent” a team effort, he said — but he’s glad things turned out the way they did. The Bulldogs left 11 men on base headed into that final inning, and had Mississippi State failed to complete the comeback, it would have been a frustrating loss to live with.
“It’s unacceptable to leave that many runners on, especially in big games against the best teams in the country,” MacNamee said.
The Bulldogs’ time in Omaha — and MacNamee’s time at MSU — soon came to a close with losses to eventual winner Vanderbilt and Louisville. MacNamee said despite the dramatics of the 2018 contest with the Huskies, the thrilling matchup with the Tigers still takes the top spot.
“I’d say that Auburn game was for sure the No. 1,” he said. “That was insane.”
MacNamee has had several friends play for the Tigers through the years and has high esteem for the school. When Mississippi State heads to The Plains this weekend, he expects three competitive games.
“I have nothing but respect for them,” he said of Auburn. “I hope the Dawgs take it to them — I’m not going to stick up for them, but Auburn is good, and there’s always a good series there.”
But that won’t stop him from thinking about that game, watching that video, daydreaming about standing on second with no idea what would come.
“It feels like yesterday,” he said. “I wish I could go relive it right now.”