STARKVILLE — Tanner Allen was at peace in a sea of noise as he pulled into third base with a headfirst dive.
Powered by the clanging of cowbells, fueled by the screams of the near-capacity crowd, Allen popped up from the bag after his one-out triple in the bottom of the sixth inning Friday night against No. 6 Ole Miss.
The Mississippi State right fielder pumped his arm emphatically and turned to see his teammate, third baseman Kamren James, stride toward the dish. Immediately, Allen was confident.
“Kam’s coming to the plate,” Allen told himself. “We’re about to take the lead.”
James ripped the second pitch from Rebels starter Gunnar Hoglund to deep left center field. Center fielder TJ McCants caught it, but Allen had time to jog home with the go-ahead run.
Then he got to relax a little bit. Allen watched four scoreless innings from relievers Preston Johnson and Landon Sims to close out the game, then helped the Bulldogs add two runs in the bottom of the eighth.
And his sixth-inning score stood as the winning tally in a 5-2 victory for the fourth-ranked Bulldogs (26-7, 9-4 Southeastern Conference) over the Rebels (25-9, 8-5) in front of more than 10,000 screaming fans who packed Dudy Noble Field to the gills.
“You get the fanbase behind us, it’s very, very hard for an opposing team to play in Dudy Noble,” Allen said.
Mississippi State lost its chance to show that in 2020 when conference play was wiped off the schedule by the COVID-19 pandemic. On Friday night, the Bulldogs reminded the 10,291 officially in attendance — though it seemed like far more — and the thousands watching from home just how difficult it can be for those in the visitors’ first-base dugout.
Take the Whitesnake song blasting from the speakers when Sims emerged from the left-field bullpen.
Take the razzing Ole Miss right fielder John Rhys Plumlee received from the student section behind him, a chirping so incessant Plumlee turned and stared at those assembled when he made a sliding catch of a Logan Tanner liner in the fourth.
Take the high pop fly not 20 feet in front home plate in the eighth, when Rebels reliever Derek Diamond and third baseman Justin Bench collided and the baseball squirted free, falling to the grass.
“This fanbase is the best in the country, and it’s not even close,” Allen said. “I’ve played in just about every single SEC stadium and even Omaha, and nothing compares to Dudy Noble, man.”
The Bulldogs’ performance Friday night gave the maroon and white-filled stands a reason to cheer. Even when Ole Miss took the lead in the fourth inning on a solo home run by McCants, Mississippi State had a ready answer.
It came off the bat of James, who drove in a run in all four of his plate appearances Friday. Watching from third as McCants’ fly ball into the right-field corner left the yard, the DeSoto Central product was ready to make an impact when he led off the inning. He crushed a 1-0 pitch from starter Gunnar Hoglund into the Left Field Lounge, tying the game 2-2, and he took his time admiring the blast before circling the bases.
“To respond like that, it was huge,” James said. “It gave us a little spark, and we continued to play well the rest of the game.”
Starter Christian MacLeod battled through five solid innings after a 38-pitch third in which the Rebels tied the game 1-all on a single and an error by shortstop Lane Forsythe. The sophomore punched out five Rebels, allowed four hits and gave up two runs.
“He gave us a chance to hand it to our bullpen at a decent time,” Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis said.
MacLeod gave way to Johnson, who rebounded from a tough outing last weekend at Auburn. When Allen saw Johnson enter for the sixth and begin his night by freezing Ole Miss left fielder Kevin Graham, he knew what the Rebels were in store for.
“Alright, Preston’s coming in the game,” Allen thought. “When he’s in the zone, good luck.”
Johnson kept Ole Miss at bay with a scoreless sixth and seventh before Sims came on for the final two innings, entering to a standing ovation before he even picked up a baseball for his warm-up tosses.
The Bulldogs’ bats picked up their star reliever after a 1-2-3 eighth as second baseman Scotty Dubrule doubled, center fielder Rowdey Jordan scored him with a single, and James just missed a home run to left field, settling for another sac fly.
“He’s doing a lot of everything,” Lemonis said. “He’s been hot for a couple of weeks now. When he walks up there, you’ll get a big swing out of him.”
Given two insurance runs, Sims got some defensive help after Hayden Dunhurst’s leadoff double. Forsythe snared a Bench liner and ran to second base to double off a helpless Dunhurst, who stood frozen in the baseline halfway to third.
Sims blew away McCants with high heat to end the game as the Rebels center fielder slammed his bat on the plate, frustrated and powerless.
“He’s a special player,” Lemonis said of his ace reliever. “I told our team, ‘I sure am glad Landon Sims is on our team.’ Hopefully we get a shot at using him another time this weekend.”
If the Bulldogs are able to deploy Sims again, they’ll likely do so with a series win — if not a sweep — on the line. Mississippi State will meet Ole Miss again at 2 p.m. Saturday, hoping to keep up Friday night’s momentum.
“It was really fun tonight, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the weekend,” James said.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.