OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Mississippi State’s first three wins in the College World Series were one-run games. The Bulldogs’ fourth was a blowout, and it was well-timed.
Houston Harding and Preston Johnson combined on a four-hitter and MSU capitalized on struggling Vanderbilt pitching in a 13-2 victory Tuesday night that forced a deciding third game in the College World Series finals.
The easy win allowed Bulldogs coach Chris Lemonis to hold back rested pitchers, including star reliever Landon Sims, for the winner-take-all Game 3 on Wednesday night.
“We’re ecstatic because, one, we’re still playing, and, two, we used two arms tonight,” Lemonis said. “We have an opportunity to use some different guys tomorrow now because of the score. It was nice after the game. I grabbed Landon, I said, ‘Man, it was sure nice not having to pitch you tonight’ because I feel like in every win for the last month he has been out there.”
The Commodores (49-17) will be going for their second straight national title and third since 2014 after their most lopsided loss in their 29 all-time CWS games.
“Just got to have a short memory,” Vandy’s CJ Rodriguez said. “I think we need to wash it out as fast as we can and get it done tomorrow.”
The Bulldogs (49-18) will be playing for their first championship.
“This game is done, and we’re going to remain cool, calm and collected and bring the same energy out tomorrow,” MSU’s Scotty Dubrule said. “Tomorrow is a new day and we’re going to have to face some tough arms.”
The start in this one was delayed two hours because of rain, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of another pro-MSU crowd that included Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott in a pinstriped “State” baseball jersey and former NFL QB Jay Cutler and basketball coach Jerry Stackhouse representing Vandy.
Like Game 1, when Vanderbilt scored seven first-inning runs on its way to an 8-2 win, this one was over early as Mississippi State broke things open with a four-run third inning.
“Big bounce-back game from our guys, just a resilient group,” Lemonis said after MSU’s biggest winning margin in Omaha since beating Georgia Southern 15-1 in 1990. “We’ve had our back against the wall feels like all year long and they just keep responding.”
The Commodores issued a season-high 10 walks, including three in a row by 17-year-old starter Christian Little (3-2) that fueled Mississippi State’s big fourth inning.
The Bulldogs turned an error into a run in the first, and the decisive third inning started with shortstop Carter Young fielding Tanner Allen’s grounder but unable to get the ball out of his glove. It was scored a hit, but probably should have been an out — and was a sign of things to come.
Little’s three straight walks forced in a run and brought on reliever Patrick Reilly. Dubrule’s hard comebacker deflected off Reilly’s leg and scored two runs, and the Bulldogs got another on a bases-loaded wild pitch.
Mississippi State scored five times in the seventh to push its lead into double digits.
“We haven’t played a game like that, but whether it’s 13-1 or 2-1 — if you lose 2-1 it might have more of an effect than a 13-1 game,” Vandy coach Tim Corbin said, shorting his team a run in his comment. “It’s embarrassing.”
The Bulldogs finished with 14 hits, with light-hitting shortstop Lane Forsythe leading them with three hits out of the No. 9 spot after going 1 for 11 in his first five CWS games.
Johnson (4-0) allowed two hits and struck out seven in five innings of relief of Harding.
Prescott, MSU’s two-time All-SEC quarterback in 2014-15, got big cheers during an in-stadium interview when he gushed over a Bulldogs’ fan following that far exceeds Vandy’s in numbers and volume. When an MSU fan caught a foul ball and tossed it up to the section behind him where Prescott was sitting, Prescott signed it and tossed it back.
The all-SEC finals could come down to a pitching matchup between stars Kumar Rocker of Vanderbilt and Will Bednar of Mississippi State.
Rocker, the 2019 CWS Most Outstanding Player, is coming off four days’ rest. Bednar, who struck out 15 against Texas in his CWS debut June 20, would have three days’ rest since throwing 97 pitches in the bracket final against the Longhorns.