STARKVILLE, Miss. – Cody Freeman’s RBI-single in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Mississippi State baseball team its first walk-off win of the season – a dramatic 7-6 triumph over No. 21 Auburn in a Southeastern Conference game played Friday night at Dudy Noble Field.
The Bulldogs scored seven runs after two were out to win its conference home opener. With the victory, MSU improved to 16-6 overall and 2-2 in league play, while Auburn lost on Friday night for a second straight week, while falling to 14-8 and 2-2.
With a tied score in the Bulldog ninth inning, Wes Thigpen led off the inning with a base hit to right field. After a sacrifice-bunt by Jaron Shepherd, Nick Vickerson could not advance the runner after grounding out to third base. Freeman then lined a 1-2 pitch to left center, scoring pinch runner Sam Frost with the game-winner.
“That was awesome,” said Freeman, a senior designated hitter. “I have had three or four game-winning hits but really nothing quite like that. When I hit it, I looked up and saw the center field and said ‘My gosh, he is going to catch that’.”
Instead, the Bulldogs made it back-to-back wins over ranked opponents as Friday’s victory came on the heels of last Sunday’s 9-8 victory at second-ranked Vanderbilt.
“In years past, we had no confidence, when we have gotten behind,” MSU head coach John Cohen said. “Now, we have confidence in our pitching staff. When you get used to winning one-run games, a certain confidence comes with that.”
The Bulldogs seized the momentum early, staking starting pitcher Devin Jones to a 4-0 lead with four scores in home half of the second inning.
In the MSU second inning, Daryl Norris started things with a leadoff single. After a sacrifice bunt, Jonathan Ogden singled, placing runners on the corners. After a strikeout, Thigpen reached as a hit batsman, loading the bases. With two outs, the Bulldogs then got back-to-back run-scoring hits as Shepherd lined a two-run single and Nick Vickerson followed with a two-run double.
The Tigers answered with a pair of runs in both the third and fourth innings.
In the Auburn third inning, Cullen Wacker opened with a double to left center. Wacker took third base on a passed before, before Creede Simpson reached as a hit batsman. Justin Hargett struck out, but his at-bat scored Wacker as the third strike was wild pitched. After another wild pitch, a groundout by Justin Fradejas scored the inning’s other run.
The Tigers chased Jones while evening things one at-bat later. Dan Gamache began the at-bat with a leadoff triple. A follow-up RBI-single by Wes Gilmer scored the AU designated hitter. Tim Statz followed Jones to the hill, only to hit a batter and allow a game-tying sacrifice-fly by Simpson.
Auburn grabbed a 5-4 lead with a single score in the fifth inning. For a third straight inning, the Tigers had a leadoff hit as Casey McElroy singled. After a flyout, a wild pitch moved McElroy to second base. For MSU, Luis Pollorena relieved Statz. After a groundout, an RBI-double by Tony Caldwell placed the guests on top.
The lead was short-lived as the Bulldogs bounced back right back with a pair of scores in the home half of the sixth inning. C.T. Bradford connected for a two-out single in that MSU frame. Thigpen followed with a towering two-run home run down the left field line. The Bulldog catcher’s first round tripper of the year gave the Maroon and White a 6-5 lead.
Auburn matched the MSU home run an inning later. A leadoff home run by Justin Fradejas – also his first – tied the teams at 6-6 entering the “7th inning Stretch.”
The Tigers missed a golden opportunity in the eighth inning. Kevin Patterson began things with a leadoff double. After a walk to Wacker and a popup, Caleb Reed gave way to Girodo , who retired all five batters he faced.
“We kept battling and kept believing,” Freeman said. “That is something I am real proud about this team. Everyone was calm in the dugout. We believe as long we have outs, we have a chance to win the ballgame. The confidence tonight came from the big win at Vanderbilt.”
Girodo (2-0) worked 1.2 innings, allowing no base runners and striking out three to garner the win. Zach Blatt (1-2) took the loss, throwing 2.2 innings, in relief of starter Cory Luckie.
The Bulldogs pounded out 12 hits – their best total in a conference game this season. Thigpen had three hits, while Vickerson and Norris added multiple hits. Vickerson was caught stealing, snapping his streak at 17 straight steals.
Auburn managed eight hits off five MSU pitchers, including multi-hits by Wacker.
The Bulldogs and Tigers resume their weekend series at 2 p.m. Saturday. Auburn is scheduled to start junior right-hander Will Irvin (3-0, 3.70 ERA), while MSU is scheduled to start sophomore right-hander Chris Stratton (3-1, 2.38). The series finale is at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.