It did indeed. Heck's one-out chopper to the left side took a high enough and long enough carom to clear the shifted Tennessee infielders and score CF C.T. Bradford for a 1-0 victory. The walk-off, or run-home finish to game-two leaves the SEC series split headed into Sunday's rubber game.
The bouncer came off Volunteer reliever Kyle Serrano, who had taken over that same frame for starter Nick Williams after nine scoreless innings. Righthander Serrano threw hard and well but had unfortunate timing as the top of Mississippi State's order was up for the extra inning. A leadoff double by Bradford put the winning run in scoring position immediately, and 1B Alex Detz bunted him up to third base where almost anything would end the game.
Walking leading Dog hitter 2B Brett Pirtle was playing percentages in more ways than one. Twice in Friday's 4-2 loss and already once this game the Bulldogs had loaded bases with one or no outs and failed to score anyone. Tonight it happened again in the MSU seventh, and in the eighth with a runner on third Heck had grounded out. In the ninth State missed its first walk-off opportunity by stranding C Gavin Collins after he made third base with one out.
Instead of frustration this time, the Bulldogs had a positive approach to the extra-inning. "When you pressure them so much so many innings in a row, you're just going to get lucky one of those times.," said Heck.
Luck or not, Heck turned out the right Dog at the right time after the intentional pass of Pirtle and a shift of the middle infield towards the left side. On 2-2 he saw a fastball, down-and-in from Serrano. "Obviously with a runner at first base they're trying to get a ground ball, and two strikes I'm just trying to get something in play. It was a good pitch and he got the ground ball that he wanted." But, it was pounded directly into the plastic turf in front of the plate. Heck had seen some Volunteer grounders early in the game take long hops, and his did too. The difference was this ricochet was against a drawn-in defense that couldn't get back.
After watching his squad strand seven runners the prior three innings, "We got a little bit of good fortune, finally," Coach John Cohen said. "A ball bounced over the third baseman's head and we'll certainly take it."
RHP Jonathan Holder was glad to take the winning decision. Nominally a closer, he had entered in the top of the seventh with one out, a runner on, and a 1-1 count. After going full he struck out Taylor Smart and finished with a fanning of David Houser to keep it scoreless. From there he simply stormed through the Volunteers, retiring all eleven he faced with seven by strikeouts.
"I just tried to come out and do my job, strike some people out and let my defense work." The did that when Vols didn't whiff, snaring line-outs and the lone grounder made off his sharp stuff. Holder said he tried to keep himself calm as per usual but, "there was something special, it kind of got my adrenalin pumped. It felt good."Holder (5-1) went the last 3.2 turns with no hits or walks though it took 56 pitches as the Volunteers made him work. Certainly starter LHP Ross Mitchell deserved something for his 6.1 shutout innings too. He allowed the only two Tennessee hits, both singles by Derek Lance; and walked three. But Mitchell struck out five and only once had a runner reach the third corner.
"They were taking it seemed like early so I decided to attack the zone," said Mitchell "And me and Gavin (C Collins) did a real good job back there, it seemed he was calling every pitch I wanted tonight."
The true disappointment belonged to Williams as he managed to seven-hit the home team for nine complete innings, with three walks and eight strikeouts. Yet there was nothing to show for a gutsy outing after stranding everyone who reached.
Much like game-one the Bulldogs put a pair on with one out in the opening inning and didn't score either, thanks to a double-play ironically off Heck's bat. State didn't really threaten again until the seventh, when they did stuff all sacks with singles by Pirtle and Collins and an intentional passing of LF Cody Brown. A soft liner and grounder stranded everyone.
Mitchell needed a little help, certainly in the second when he had Lance on second with two outs. Houser drilled a shot that seemed sure to get into rightfield and maybe the gap…except Pirtle timed his leap and extended just enough to come down with the ball to save the run. "Thank goodness, I think Pirtle has the best vertical in the country," Cohen quipped.
Houser was robbed again in the fifth as Heck went to the third base side to deny a hit and even throw the batter out, with a runner going from second base. A one-out walk in the Tennessee sixth was erased by a double-play, and in the seventh with a runner on first RF Demarcus Henderson made a long running, reaching catch to deny a RBI-double to Nick Senzel.
Another walk after that out though had State calling in Holder on 1-1. "My competitive side came out for once and I wanted to try to work through it," Mitchell admitted. "But it's easy giving the ball to a guy like him."
Henderson made a bid to end the game in the ninth with a one-out rocket and Dogs on corners. It lined directly into the shortstop's glove. Yet it was that sort of contact which kept State confident, especially after the pitching change. Bradford's double created a threat that finally developed.>
"He got a barrel in a good position and that's what we needed, we haven't hit a ton of doubles," Cohen said. Fittingly it was an upperclassman coming across with the winner on Senior Day. Serrano (3-3) took the loss on those two hits and the game's only run.
And for his feat Heck took the post-game towel full of shaving cream, which was his brand. "Not any more," he added. Delivering the one clutch contact that would have made Friday a much different final let the Dogs celebrate on their own field, for a welcome change.
"I knew we were going to push through," Holder said. "I didn't know when it was going to happen. But tell you what, when you come out and your leadoff guy gets on every time it gives you a really good chance."
Now both teams go to Sunday with equal chance of taking the series. State (32-19, 15-11) will either be tied for or alone in fifth place SEC pending the late game results in Baton Rouge. Tennessee (29-19, 11-15) needs the win even more to stay on track for a SEC Tournament berth that the Dogs have clinched. A win and an Auburn loss might lock it up for the Volunteers, though all projections have to allow for rainouts in the final weekend.
Tennessee expects to come back with briefly-used Friday reliever and lefty Andy Cox (4-1, 1.87). State was undecided between RHP Preston Brown (4-1, 2.28) or LHP Lucas Laster (0-0, 2.00). Realistically it will be approached as a split start and RHP Brandon Woodruff (1-2, 6.32) is immediately available. Holder might have been burned for Sunday, especially with the final series opening on Thursday, but LHP Jacob Lindgren (3-1, 1.83) should have recovered from a Friday stint.