The Bulldog first baseman wrote a piece of program history with three home runs, including a grand slam, powering Mississippi State past Kentucky 10-6. A ‘super Saturday’ crowd of 13,691 got to watch the slugging show. And, see Rooker become only the ninth Bulldog batter with a three-homer game.
“I couldn’t have picked a better day to do it, obviously with the best fans in college baseball, which means the world to us as players,” said Rooker.
The win itself meant much to Mississippi State (21-12, 7-4) as the weekend series evened. Kentucky is 22-10, 8-3 and still leading the SEC’s Eastern Division.
Rooker himself matched Kentucky’s scoring with six RBI of his own, going 4-for-4 on the day and now 9-of-14 for just this week with six homers and 13 RBI. After State’s loss on Friday though this final meant more to Rooker than even the stats and record.
“That’s a really, really good team in the other dugout. I think they’re first place in the league coming in and it’s a huge win for us with a newish team.”
The coach was happy to toot a horn for his big hitter. “How ‘bout that Brent Rooker guy?!” Andy Cannizaro said. ““It’s probably one of the coolest moments in Mississippi State baseball history.” It certainly was one of the rarest, not done since Ryan Duffy in 2010 and only seven other days.
As Saturday played out all were needed. Kentucky came out swinging themselves, hanging three first-inning runs on RHP Cole Gordon. A pair of those came off Friday hitting leader Tristan Pompey’s bat as he left the park just two batters into action and Kole Cottom doubled in a third run.
Gordon, making his first SEC start and second-ever in a swing-game, handled it with poise beyond the converted first baseman’s experience. “Cole was outstanding,” Cannizaro said. “He weathered the early storm and settled in and got the cutter working.”
Not just that, Gordon said. “Both the cutter and the curveball. The last couple of innings I started using them a little more and kind of got beneath the zone. When I left it up obviously they were all over it.”
Gordon went 4.0-plus with the three runs on four hits, three walks, and six strikeouts of the aggressive Wildcats. Meanwhile State’s offense got everything back in the second inning and more.
LF Cody Brown was the initial spark. After hitting an inside-park homer Friday when his counterpart fell down, the Bulldogs knocked one all the way out to lead off. A single and plunking, then consecutive fly balls brought 3B Luke Alexander across with the sacrifice by RF Tanner Poole.
Kentucky ace Zach Logue probably wasn’t so worried at that point. But a single by 2B Hunter Stovall and plunking of CF Jake Mangum loaded the bases with two outs for Rooker. 0-of-2 on Friday, he had singled in the first inning. This time he was looking longer.
A lot longer.
“Every at-bat they’d pitched to me so far all they were trying to do was beat me with fastballs. So I told Coach I was going to back off the plate and if he throws me a fastball I’m going to try to hit it out. That just happened to happen.”
It did. Logue threw a fastball and Rooker hit it out, for the first career grand slam and a 6-3 lead. If Gordon celebrated more than most, well…
“That makes it a lot easier! And it instills a lot of confidence.”
Rooker made it a 7-3 lead with his solo shot in the Bulldog fourth. Gordon came back out to throw three balls in the Kentucky fifth and yield to RHP Jacob Barton. He was able to strand this runner, then in the sixth saw Riley Mahan’s drive off the fence go for a triple. Cottam singled in the fourth Wildcat run before RHP Peyton Plumlee took over on 1-0 count. He had a struggle to leave the bases loaded on a grounder by the top of UK’s order.
Rooker was up again in the sixth with clean bases and two outs. Not only did Kentucky pitch to him, but with a new arm. Chris Machamer replaced Logue with the two down and also tried to throw heat past Rooker. The result was a tied record and 8-4 lead.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that,” Gordon said. “After the first one I’m like, he might do it again. After the second one you’re like no way he does it again. After the third one well, they’d better put a hand out.”
Kentucky did so the next time. Never mind two were already on bases with two outs. “I didn’t think they’d want to load up the bases,” Rooker said. “They did and (Ryan Gridley) made them pay.” The shortstop pounded a single through the middle scoring Stovall and Mangum for some extra margin.
It proved helpful. RHP Denver McQuary had ended the Wildcat eighth with a runner stranded, only to absorb consecutive singles in the ninth. RHP Riley Self was rushed in only to load the bases with a walk. He got a couple of strikeouts before Cottom doubled in Evan White and Pompey. A swinging strikeout of Carson ended the evening.
Plumlee (4-1) picked up the win in middle-relief with 2.0 scoreless innings with a hit, walk, and strikeout. Logue (5-2) took the loss with 5.2 turns, seven runs on ten hits and five strikeouts. Pompey and Cottam both notched three-hit nights with all six RBI between them.
Rooker’s show shaded all other Dogs though Gridley, Brown, and Stovall each had a pair of hits. Brown’s homer was his fifth of the season while Rooker now has 15.
“We picked up some tremendous hits,” Cannizaro said. “Cody Brown homered, Ryan Gridley picks up a couple of base hits. And obviously Rooker’s special night.”
Sunday’s rubber game at 1:00 will find sophomore righty Justin Lewis (4-1, 2.83) on the hill for Kentucky. For once Cannizaro could say in advance his game-three guy. Lefty Mangum (2-1, 4.72) will make his fourth SEC start and DH as well.