With an 8-4 lead but South Alabama threating by loading all the bases, their most dangerous batter at the plate, and coming at the end of a re-scheduled twinbill…the time was now, Mississippi State’s coach figured. “You’re in your 18th inning of baseball, you’ve got a limited bullpen,” Cannizaro said. “He and I were talking form the sixth or seventh inning-on stay ready, stay ready.”
Mangum was ready. OK, maybe a little rusty, too, seeing how the sophomore centerfielder and team-leading batter had not thrown a real inning since high school. Still with the left-handed core of South Alabama’s order up and two already on southpaw Mangum got the call.
“Once the first two guys got on there was no doubt in my mind,” Cannizaro said. “I’m confident he’s going to throw it over, be aggressive. He’s never, ever going to be scared.”
Mangum wasn’t scared throwing at Jaguar centerfielder Travis Swaggerty, already 3-of-3 for the day with a homer, double, and two-run single. He was just a little fine, inheriting a 1-0 count from RHP Graham Ashcraft and finishing the way. Then, also walking Wells Davis to force in one run.
A fly ball by Carter Perkins plated another Jaguar as well, an exchange Mangum accepted for the second out. Because the next fly, to center, was caught to secure the 8-6 win. This followed Mississippi State’s earlier 5-4 win over Columbia in a weather-forced doubleheader. If maybe more tense than intended, the outcome was just fine in all aspects to a squad that had come up short before.
“A huge relief,” LF Brant Blaylock said. “Good to see us finally winning those close games.”
Both were close calls with some Bulldog assistance. The host team had good leads in each contest that got away. In game-one, entirely as Columbia scored three times in their eighth for a 4-4 tie. Mississippi State needed a leadoff triple in the bottom of the ninth and walk-off RBI single from Blaylock to avoid extras or worse.
The second game had different sorts of swings. South Alabama broke scoring ice in the fourth inning as Swaggerty crushed a RHP Peyton Plumlee offering over rightfield. Plumlee shook off this lone lapse to go 5.1 innings on five hits, a walk, and four strikeouts of the hard-swinging Jaguars.
“Plumlee was outstanding,” Cannizaro said. “A strike-thrower with three pitches, he attacks the strike zone.”
Plumlee was still on the hook when relieved with one out and one on in the fifth. LHP Trysten Barlow was the right relief matchup for an order starting eight lefthanded hitters, stranding that runner. He also came back for the seventh with a 4-1 lead. USA starter Tyler Carr walked nine-spot hitter 2B Hunter Stovall, and was hit by Mangum for a single.
Nick DeSantis took the ball and delivered the pitch 3B Luke Alexander bunted to advance both teammates. This allowed SS Ryan Gridley to tie things on his fly ball scoring Stovall. South Alabama intentionally walked DH Brent Rooker to set up a double-opportunity.
But Rooker was running on 1-0 to Brown. Running and ducking too, as Brown screamed a liner just behind his helmet to plate Mangum for the first Bulldog lead. It grew as DeSantis gave consecutive plunkings of RF Hunter Vansau and Blaylock for a free run. That brought in lefthander Joey Jones to give up the RBI single to C Dustin Skelton for the 4-1 lead.
Which almost instantly became 4-2 as Will Luft took Barlow over leftfield for a one-out homer. Consecutive singles by the last two in USA’s order and a full-count walk loaded the bases and bring in Ashcraft. A second out still let Swaggerty get to swing. Ashcraft almost beat him, only to have Swaggerty fight the pitch off for a soft single and 4-4 tie.
The clutch play was almost certainly on defense. Davis pounded the ball towards middle-field where Stovall did very well just to glove it. He did marvelously better by, still running away, he threw on a spin with enough mustard to beat Davis by a step.
Jones came back to get one out in the MSU eighth before former Bulldog Avery Geyer was given the ball. He was able to end the seventh in-order, but ran into Rooker for the eighth. Rooker himself ran into a fastball and no-doubted it over leftfield.
The key was expanding this lead. A walk of Brown brought in lefty Zach Melton, who only stayed long enough to walk pinch-hitter OF Tanner Poole. Righty Matt Peacock conceded the expected bunt by Blaylock and struck out Skelton.
But a fly ball by Stovall which ought have been routine wasn’t. Rightfielder Cam Cummings lost track, charging first before reversing course too late as the drive got over for a two-RBI double. Mangum singled as did Alexander for the 8-4 lead which sufficed.
“It was big-time,” Brown said. “You always want to score as many runs as you possibly can, especially in the late innings. That game could be a whole lot different if we hadn’t put up more runs there.”
Geyer (0-1) took the loss as three of the four Dogs he faced hit him. State’s Ashcraft (2-0) got the win with 2.0 innings on two runs, a hit and walk, and four strikeouts. It was of course Mangum’s first save.
Mangum also was 2-of-5 with a run at the plate, starting a new streak after his 27-game run of hitting safely was snapped by Columbia. Rooker, Alexander, and Skelton also had two hits out of State’s ten total safeties. Swaggerty was 3-of-3 with three RBI and a run, and walked in his other appearances.
“Today was a day of perseverance,” Cannizaro said. “Just an outstanding 18 innings of effort and two big wins for our team.”
Mississippi State (10-6) must continue to persevere though. Having Saturday washed away has pushed the rematch with Columbia to Monday, now set for 10:00 so the Lions can get to Hattiesburg in the evening. With a regularly-scheduled Tuesday game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, there are some interesting pitching choices to make.
“We’ll have a short turnaround and get right back after it,” Cannizaro said.