During their improbable run to Omaha, Mississippi State has won all kinds of games – pitcher’s duels, shootouts, and wacky games where nothing really made sense. Nothing needed explaining on Saturday night, the Bulldogs pitching was, simply, fantastic.
TD Ameritrade is infamous for being a pitcher’s park, but that doesn’t belittle a pitcher’s duel, especially one on opening night of the College World Series.
Ethan Small was nails on the mound for the Bulldogs, stifling Washington batters through seven shutout innings.
While Small experienced arguably the best start of his career, he wasn’t exactly able to cruise early. He battled jitters, as most would in that atmosphere, which was buzzing with an announced attendance of 24,758, and fought to gain his command.
In the first, Ethan bounced a few balls early and fell behind in the count to all three batters he faced, though he did face only three, retiring the Huskies in order.
AJ Graffanino ruined the sophomore lefty’s attempt at settling into a rhythm in the second, taking a 1-0 pitch to right for a two-out ground-rule double. Small had retired the first two batters of the inning on 8 pitches (7 strikes), forcing a routine groundout and recording his first strikeout of the game.
Back-to-back one-out singles, compounded by a balk, put the Huskies in business in the third with runners on second and third. Small hit the next batter before hoodwinking his way out of the jam with a ground-ball double play.
But from there on, Ethan Small was lights out, allowing just one baserunner over his last four innings, striking out three.
JP France relieved Small in the eighth, and he picked up right where his teammate left off. Striking out the first batter he faced, running the (broadcast) gun up to 95 once, France, a senior righty, proved to be a game robin to Small’s batman.
Hunter Stovall, Jake Mangum, and Luke Alexander were the only Bulldog bats to do much through the first innings, dropping in two hits each. Outside of those three (and an Elijah MacNamee single in the fourth), the Mississippi State offense was unable to mount much of anything against Husky pitching.
But then the Rally Banana came alive in the ninth, as Hunter Stovall and Elijah MacNamee poked back-to-back singles to lead off the bottom half of the ninth. Justin Foscue, however, popped up a sacrifice bunt that threatened to stick a pen in the promising scoring opportunity.
Luke Alexander, whose walk-off home run in April jumpstarted the Bulldogs run of success, was due up at the plate, though. Alexander laced a double over a shallow right fielder’s head on an 0-2 count to walk off the Huskies.
Mississippi State, now with a walk-off win in each round of the postseason, feels like a team that has greatness in their destiny. No matter the obstacle, they overcome it, in increasingly dramatic fashion.
In the supers they bounced back from a devastating walk-off loss in the Super Regional round. Before that, they were one out away from being eliminated in game two of the Tallahassee Regional. They were swept to start the season, and then their coach resigned for off-field conduct.
Everywhere they go, the Bulldogs have a freight train hurdled at their head, and they just duck out of the way, continuing on their merry way to greatness.
They will face off against North Carolina Monday at 6:00 p.m. CST in a matchup of inspired teams with the “it factor.”