MSU Evens Series on Walk-Off HR

Mississippi State head coach John Cohen almost put on the bunt. With one out in the ninth inning and the Bulldogs down one run, the head coach decided better of it. Nick Vickerson rewarded the decision, launching a two-run walk-off home run into the left field bleachers as Mississippi State evened up the series with a 4-3 win over Florida.

"The situation comes down to one swing, and we were talking about bunting," Cohen said. "We asked Nick what he wanted to do, and he said, ‘just give me a strike.' Boy, he made the most of that."

The decision to take the bunt off was helped because of the bunt's failures early in the game. The Bulldogs had the leadoff runner reach base in the first and third innings, and Cohen elected to move him over with a bunt both times. Mississippi State didn't score either time.

Two of Vickerson's eight home runs have come off the Gators this season, including a solo home run off Nick Maronde in the SEC Tournament. Maronde started the ninth inning on the mound and gave up a leadoff single to Jarrod Parks, but Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan elected to go to his bullpen.

He gave the ball to left-hander Steven Rodriguez, and Vickerson hit his first pitch into the left field bleachers, serving as the first time Florida lost on a walk-off home run since April 10, 2009 at Auburn.

"(Rodriguez) has swing and miss stuff, and he's had a great year for us," O'Sullivan said. "You can flip a coin between he and Maronde. You've got to tip your cap to Parks and Vickerson."

In a normal situation, there would've been no doubt who was on the mound for the Gators. Right-hander Austin Maddox earned the closer's role during the final few weeks of the regular season, but he has been out since the opening game of last weekend's Regional with a sprained foot.

"Obviously, that was the role that Maddox had all year and was doing a good job with," O'Sullivan said. "Without him, we've been trying to do some different things."

The game looked in hand for the Gators after the eighth inning. Mike Zunino started it with a double off the center field wall and moved to third on a wild pitch with Josh Adams at the plate. After Adams struck out, Tyler Thompson picked his teammate up with a triple to left-center field.

"That was big," Florida starting pitcher Karsten Whitson said. "It was definitely a hit that we needed. The emotions after (the loss) weren't fun."

For the first six innings, Whitson was cruising. He allowed just two base runners on a walk to start the game and a bunt single in the third inning. In the seventh, Vickerson and Jaron Shepherd had back-to-back singles that ended a streak of 13 straight retired and prompted O'Sullivan to come out for a meeting on the mound. Cody Freeman followed with an RBI single to get the Bulldogs on the board, and Whitson's day was done. Florida reliever Tommy Toledo gave up a single to Brent Brownlee that tied the score at two.

"Balls just started to find holes," Whitson said about the seventh inning struggles. "I was making good pitches and getting ahead. Their hitters were just battling and balls found holes to give them momentum."

The late issues don't take away from the early success Whitson had. He lasted 6.1 innings, giving up four hits and two runs while striking out six batters.

"He did exactly what I hoped he would do and then more," O'Sullivan said. "He pitched his heart out. The slider was the best it has been all year long, and the fastball had it's normal (velocity) with nice sink."

Florida took an early lead off Mississippi State starter Nick Routt. Nolan Fontana hit a sacrifice fly in the third inning and Josh Adams blasted a solo home run to right field to give Florida a 2-0 lead until the seventh inning.

Cohen pulled Routt after 3.2 innings of work and went to closer Caleb Reed with nothing to lose. If his team couldn't keep Florida off the scoreboard, bringing his closer in that early wouldn't matter because their season was over.

Reed was dominant.

He went 5.1 innings, allowing four hits and one run while striking out two.

"You have to pound the strike zone. If you start walking people, that's when they start scoring runs. I developed a changeup two weeks ago for the postseason, and it really helps with left-handed hitters."

The Mississippi State win sets the table for a decisive game three on Sunday at 1 p.m. O'Sullivan said he will check on the health of a few players before deciding on a starting pitcher, and Cohen said his staff will meet later to decide who they will use.

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