NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — After the season the Mississippi State Bulldogs have had, what's a little two-hour weather delay, a five-hour-plus, 11-inning game to punch a ticket to the College World Series?
The Bulldogs survived all those things, plus a three-run ninth-inning rally by Vanderbilt, to take a 10-6 victory on Sunday night and secure a date in Omaha in what has become a season of survival.
Interim coach Gary Henderson replaced the fired Andy Canizzaro in February, and now has the Bulldogs (37-27) buying into his philosophies and reaping the rewards from it.
"It's been really unusual. It's been at times weird. At times you're playing the game, and some dude is heckling you from the stands, calling you Mr. Interim. That's as awkward then as it is right now with me telling you that," Henderson said. "I really admire our coaching staff. Those guys got on board, no hidden agenda. It was, 'Hendu, what do we need to do?' And I let them do it."
Henderson's Bulldogs responded after a slow start to the season, being 2-7 at one point in Southeastern Conference play, with everything culminating in Sunday night's marathon win over Vanderbilt.
Tanner Allen's double in the 11th inning drove in the go-ahead run and sparked a four-run rally as Mississippi State finally outlasted Vanderbilt to claim the World Series bid.
Allen's line drive into the right-field corner scored pinch-hitter Josh Hatcher, who had walked to lead off the inning. Mississippi State, which will be headed to Omaha for the first time since 2013, later scored a second run when Justin Foscue drew a bases-loaded walk to drive in Rowdey Jordan, who had reached on an infield single. Luke Alexander followed with a two-run single to push the Bulldogs' lead to four runs.
The State rally made a winner of reliever Denver McQuary (2-2), who faced just two batters. Keegan James pitched a scoreless bottom of the 11th to close the game.
Tyler Brown (1-5) took the loss for Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt (35-27) had rallied from three runs down in the ninth inning to force extra innings after Mississippi State had scored three times to take the lead in the top half of the frame..
"I'm proud of our boys. I really am," Commodores coach Tim Corbin said. "It wasn't a pretty baseball game, but it was a heck of a game to be a part of. There were so many big plays defensive and some big hits. That last (ninth) inning, I'll never forget. We pieced together a heck of an inning when it looked like it was over. But at the very end there, we were just too far to come from behind."
For Mississippi State center fielder Jake Mangum, whose RBI double in the ninth sparked the Bulldogs' rally that had them three outs from Omaha, it was almost fitting that they had to go to extra innings after the season they have endured.
"I was thinking about that in the 10th inning. Why wouldn't we blow a three-run lead and have to win it in extra innings? This year has been a rollercoaster," said Mangum.
A LITTLE PREMATURE
It is fairly common in baseball for a batter to drop the bat and take a step toward first base on what he believes to be ball four, only to have the umpire call it a strike and the batter have to return to the box to hit. The reverse of that happened with the bases loaded for Vanderbilt in the bottom of the first. Pat DeMarco was at the plate, and a 2-2 borderline pitch from Jacob Billingsley looked close enough to strike three that both Billingsley and catcher Dustin Skelton started to walk toward the dugout, thinking they had gotten the third out. But home plate umpire Jim Scaly called the pitch a ball. Billingsley then struck out DeMarco swinging on the next pitch to end the inning.
Vanderbilt is 0-5 all-time in super regional series when losing the first game of the best-of-three affair. Sunday night's game marked only the second time in those five chances that the Commodores had managed to force a third and decisive game in the series.
Mississippi State center fielder Jake Mangum threw out his second runner at third base in as many nights when he nailed Pat DeMarco in the bottom of the fifth. Mangum fielded Harrison Ray's one-out single to center and fired a strike to get DeMarco out on a close play. Mangum threw out Justin Infante in Saturday night's game.
COMING UP EMPTY
Mississippi State pitchers struck out 16 Vanderbilt batters in the extra inning game. The Commodores also stranded 17 runners on the bases.
Mississippi State will head to the College World Series for the first time in five years and the 10th time in school history. Vanderbilt finishes its season 35-27.