Really, really fun. Soon enough Mangum was crossing home and waiting for Rooker to come join him for a plate party. Rooker’s no-outs, two-run homer made Mississippi State a 9-7 winner in ten innings over Florida International.
“I’m just really, really glad Brent Rooker is on our baseball team,” Coach Andy Cannizaro said.
The visiting Golden Panthers (17-12) are really, really glad they don’t have to face the Bulldog first baseman any more. He was already 2-of-3 on the evening with another two-run homer to his credit, back in the fourth inning which at the time pulled Mississippi State within 6-5.
Rooker had also reached in the third on a plunking and scored. In the eighth with bases loaded and FIU leading 7-5 he was paid the ultimate compliment with an unofficial-but-obvious intentional walk. Never mind it cut the lead to a single run forcing pinch-runner Trey Jolly across. The Panthers didn’t want to let the SEC’s hottest hitter have a swing there with two outs.
The tactic, if it was such, worked out almost as hoped. Mississippi State did tie it up in the eighth as a strikeout of SS Ryan Gridley got away for a passed ball allowing 3B Luke Alexander to run home. FIU reliever Cam Spangler kept it there with another strikeout.
But after a scoreless ninth where State stranded two, Mangum was able to leg-out an infield single in leadoff. This time Spangler and FIU had to challenge Rooker.
“I got to 2-1, the first three pitches were fastballs. I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to throw a fourth fastball in a row. I saw it up and put a good swing on it and it just happened to catch a barrel. Something good happened.”
Good enough for Rooker’s second homer of the evening, 12th of the season, and a walk-off win. He finished with five RBI and three runs of his own.
He also finished a win for RHP Spencer Price, on 2.1 scoreless innings with a hit, walk, and three strikeouts. “I was just trying to keep it down, not give up doubles, extra-base hits. Just get them to swing at my pitches.”
Price (3-1) is State’s closer and there was no plan to pitch him on a Wednesday before another SEC series. Cannizaro saw the situation as important enough and said another inning would have been given if necessary. It wasn’t.
“I did not want Spencer Price to go back out to the mound,” Rooker said. “We really didn’t need to throw anybody else. Thankfully I was able to help.”
Price said he wouldn’t have minded more mound time. “I like throwing! I was ready to go back out. But I’m glad my teammates picked me up and we were able to win another ball game.”
Five other Bulldogs got work Wednesday with RHP Cole Gordon starting. He put up two zeroes before running into big third-turn troubles. Before the inning ended Florida International had scored six times, on six hits with a couple of plunkings and a walk. Gordon absorbed two runs on three hits in 2.1 innings.
RHP Jacob Barton, coming off a strong weekend, took more harm with four runs on as many hits. The inning only ended with a strong throw from LF Hunter Vansau getting Zach Files short of the dish on an aggressive try for home.
The Panthers would miss that run later. RHP Denver McQuary took over for three scoreless innings with four strikeouts. FIU was able to score once more, off RHP Riley Self in their eighth on a wild pitch and hard slide home by Kolby Follis.
Mississippi State did have a 1-0 lead in the first as Vansau singled-in Gridley. In the third the Bulldogs cut into their 6-1 deficit as Vansau notched another RBI with his hit scoring Rooker; and a ground ball plated Gridley. Gordon was on first base in the fourth when Rooker unloaded the first longball.
After LHP Trysten Barlow gave Price the ball to end the Panther eighth, the Dogs did some real manufacturing. Alexander’s one-on, one-out single gave Mangum a chance to get drilled in the lower leg and load the bases. Rooker only saw one pitch worth swinging at; the other four were well out of the zone. And while Gridley was automatically out on the swinging strike with bases full, pitcher Jolly in an unusual pinch-run situation was ready to run when catcher Zach Soria let it get through to the backstop.
Spangler (0-1) took the loss. The Bulldogs finished with 13 hits, FIU another 12, yet except for Rooker’s two shots everything was a single. With a 20-mph-plus wind gusting to right-center all evening this was a surprise.
“I was expecting it to be a high-scoring game with a lot of home runs and extra-base hits,” said Price.
Though a couple of weekend regular relievers were hit harder than normal, the Bulldog bullpen strung things together after the one huge inning to save the offense a chance. “We give up six runs early but our guys kept battling,” Cannizaro said. “We pitched extremely well out of the bullpen. Denver McQuary, Riley Self, Spencer Price. Trysten Barlow was really good for us.”
The Panthers had to settle for splitting the series before heading to Hattiesburg. Mississippi State is 20-11 now with Kentucky coming to town for the fourth SEC weekend. Cannizaro said all relievers who threw in Tuesday’s 8-3 loss, and at least a couple of tonight’s, should be available for Friday. The coach will meet with media Thursday morning to preview the series and update both pitching and health situations.
Everybody will be in a brighter mood, though, than it looked to be mid-game.
“That’s a huge maturity step for this young team,” Rooker said. “Getting down early tonight it would be really, really easy to cash-in and say alright, let’s go into Super Bulldog Weekend. We showed a lot of shot and resiliency.”