In just about the best way, too. Heck’s one-out single scored RF Jake Vickerson from second base to give Mississippi State a walk-off win over Louisiana State, 8-7 in a dozen innings. The Bulldogs were able to salvage this part of their series with the #1-ranked Tigers, and let squad seniors exit Dudy Noble Field for the final time as winners.
“Going out with the crowd roaring like this is a way they’ll never forget,” said sophomore RHP Dakota Hudson.
Heck certainly won’t. Nor will he forget the sting of mentholated shaving cream administered by C Gavin Collins. “You’re supposed to warn me,” Heck semi-griped media who let the catcher come in from the blind-side for the better video.
For any senior to deliver the deciding hit would have made a good game story. Heck’s Saturday made it better. He had subbed-in for fellow senior 3B Matt Britton after six innings, and was able to score in the eighth after reaching on a plunking. That was part of a two-run inning that gave the Bulldogs what looked like a winning 7-4 margin.
It would have been had Heck handled a hard grounder in the ninth. Instead the two-out, one-on bouncer by Tiger Conner Hale, who’d beaten Bulldog pitching for three days, caromed off Heck to keep the inning going. LSU used the break, went on and scored three times to force extra innings. Kade Scivicque drove in Alex Bregman with a single, and Chris Chinea evened it up with his two-RBI hit off RHP Zac Houston.
So yes, there was redemption due, though to be fair all other hot-cornermen had struggled through the entire series. Houston was able to keep it tied by stranding two Tigers in the ninth, left another on second base in the 11th, before putting on a pair on the top-12th with a nubber to Heck and walk.
Enter Hudson, the talented but erratic righty. He’d thrown relief in the other two games, four total innings and 69 pitches. By the book that would mean LSU had him scouted.
By Bulldog reckoning, it meant Hudson knew what he was up against. “That and doing charts, helping other guys and seeing how they handled them,” Hudson said. “To their credit they’re a pretty good hitting team.”
The SEC’s best offense played the book with a successful bunt from the nine-hole hitter to give the top of their order shots at Hudson. He struck out Jake Fraley, 0-of-7 on the day; and grounded Mark Laird to shortstop with 1B Wes Rea stretching way-wide to haul in SS Ryan Gridley’s throw. Hudson’s dozen pitches were either curves or mixed two-seamers. “Just trying to stay down in the zone. Gavin really had me set up well and called a great game for me.”
But the Bulldogs had been here before Thursday, losing in 14 innings. With a depleted bullpen somebody had to score soon. With one out senior Vickerson was up, having hit to straight-center the previous trips. Cohen said the old Dog was looking for another breaking ball this time.
“He said I’m going to attack this thing, get out front, and if I hook it foul I hook it foul, I’m not going to get jammed.” He wasn’t. Vickerson did get around but his liner fell a foot or so fair down the right line for a double. “That set up everything that happened,” said Cohen.
Heck was certainly set-up, and he was not going to wait more than the first fastball he saw. “I was looking to be aggressive, that’s what he threw me the last at-bat and I fouled it down left field line. I was just a little out-front. So I was sitting on it.” As Vickerson scored Heck was standing at second base.
“It’s been a frustrating couple of weeks for me at third base. And today there were several plays, and last night I wish I would have made and can make. But that’s what happens.”
“Thank goodness Seth got the chance to step up there and make it right himself,” Cohen said. “And what a better way to end his career here at Dudy Noble Field.”
Hudson (1-0) got his first win of the year and at DNF himself with the one worked inning. Houston had gone 2.1 with three hits and three strikeouts. But it was another senior, LHP Ross Mitchell, who had been in-line for a win and story-ending of his own. Taking over from starter RHP Austin Sexton, lefty Mitchell went 4.1 turns and was on-record to win it after a fifth-inning homer by Collins put State up 5-4.
The ninth spoiled that potential story as LSU used the cracked-open door. Houston and Hudson spared fan-favorite Mitchell the hurt of leaving on a loss, though.
“I think that’s a credit to our staff, Dakota and Zac,” Heck said. “They were able to come down and shut it down, got some strikeouts and some weak contact and settle momentum back down.”
Bugg (0-2) took the loss on 3.2 innings, longest stint of any Tiger. He had three hits and a run against four strikeouts.
The Tigers began with one of their gifted freshman righthanders. State was able to get to Austin Bain immediately as Vickerson hit his first double of the day—a single actually but he legged it into two bases. A walk of Britton had two Dogs on and with two outs DH Reid Humphreys drove them in.
LSU countered in their second as with two out and Hale on Chris Chinea no-doubted a drive over leftfield. Hale came up in the third with two out and a teammate on second, and doubled him in for the 3-2 lead. Bain had escaped in the second as Gridley was thrown-out trying to score on a grounder to shortstop.
Reliever Russell Reynolds stranded one in the third but wasn’t so fortunate in the fourth. It started with drilling Gridley in the helmet on one out. A walk of Vickerson had two on and both moved into scoring spots on a Britton bouncer. Rea came through with the single in short leftfield to score both.
Both teams scored in their fifth frame, as LSU got doubles by Bregman and Scivicque to bring in Mitchell. It was Tiger reliever Collin Strall serving up the longball to Collins, who was 1-of-20 in five-plus games to that point.
And it was volatile rookie righty Jake Godfrey giving up what at the time looked to be MSU’s margin of victory. The two runs were another story, because with two on and two out Cohen replaced hot-hitting Humphreys with Luke Reynolds who’d taken an awkward tumble Friday evening at first base.
Reynolds came through with a single punched through shortstop that plated Heck from second. 2B John Holland followed with a RBI-single for the three-run cushion which was just enough to mean extra innings.
And, the big chance for Heck. “Especially after the game should have ended three innings before and I didn’t get it done. To have another opportunity is great, and it’s special.”
LSU out-hit the Bulldogs 15 to 13. Chinea went 4-of-5 with four RBI and Hale ended a big weekend with a 3-of-5 day, two runs and a RBI. Vickerson was 3-of-6 in his home-field finale scoring three times, with the other ten Dog hits shared by nine batters.
LSU left 40-7 and 16-7 SEC, and awaiting the Vanderbilt-Kentucky score (update: Kentucky won) to see if they were first in the league. The Tigers certainly remain holding post-position for the NCAA Tournament seedings.
Mississippi State (24-24, 8-16) is at the other end of the SEC spectrum of course. But with Georgia’s loss at Florida the Bulldogs did get out of last place. And combined with Alabama’s loss, if Texas A&M beat Tennessee then State would be tied for 11th. Not great, but being 11th or 12th when the schedule ends will get the Dogs to Hoover.
Depending, of course, on what happens in the remaining two SEC weekends; at Ole Miss and at Tennessee. “Yeah, we’re going to take it one game at a time,” Heck said. “But we know that’s the place we’ve got to get.”
Cohen’s post-game interview follows.