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Mississippi State Wins Thrilling Elimination Game At Florida State

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Elijah MacNamee (Getty Images)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—Down in the count, 1-2, with two outs, two runners on and his team trailing by two runs in the ninth inning Saturday at Florida State, Mississippi State outfielder Elijah MacNamee stepped out of the box. He could feel Seminoles lefthander Drew Parrish getting into a rhythm, the crowd at Dick Howser Stadium getting behind him. So, with the Bulldogs’ season down to its final strike, MacNamee took a beat.

When MacNamee stepped back in the box, Parrish threw a changeup, his best pitch, a pitch that had befuddled the Bulldogs all day. MacNamee unloaded on the pitch and drove it out to left field for a stunning, three-run, walk-off home run.

With one swing of the bat, Mississippi State defeated Florida State, the No. 7 national seed, 3-2, in an elimination game at the Tallahassee Regional. The Bulldogs survived in the losers’ bracket and on Sunday play Samford with a trip to the regional final against Oklahoma on the line.

MacNamee’s home run set off a wild celebration at the plate and up the third base line, where the Bulldogs celebrated in front of the visiting fans. Across the field, the Seminoles were left in shock as their once promising season came to a screeching half.

It was the purest distillation of postseason baseball and all the raw emotions it provides.

"To be completely honest, it was one of those things, out of his hand, I knew,” MacNamee said. “At the plate it just looked like it was right there. I hit it and I knew it was gone. I blacked out and didn't even know what just happened. I felt like I was running down the third base line. Then I realized: I'm rounding first and I just won the game."

Florida State coach Mike Martin is the winningest college baseball coach in history, but he’s also seen plenty of losses in 39 years as a head coach. Saturday’s defeat was gut wrenching for him and his team.

“They hadn’t made contact on his changeup all day long,” Martin said. “He had dominated. He made a great pitch. And it got hit out of the ballpark.

“It’s something that you just have to look at it and say, ‘That’s baseball.’ Well, that’s baseball. It doesn’t make it any easier, it’s just the great game that we play can be cruel and this one was certainly cruel.”

The walk-off was just the final twist in a wild game in Tallahassee. The game began as a pitchers’ duel between Ethan Small and Parrish. Small struck out eight batters and held Florida State to two runs in six innings, and it looked like that might be enough for the Seminoles with the way Parrish was pitching. The sophomore cruised through eight innings, scattered three hits and didn’t allow a runner to reach third base.

But throughout the second half of the game the skies above Dick Howser Stadium were darkening. A storm was approaching and after the eighth inning the game went into a weather delay.

After thunderstorms lashed Tallahassee, the teams got ready to resume the game at 5 p.m., 2.5 hours after the delay began. Florida State—which was nominally the visiting team Saturday—sent three pitchers to warmup coming out of the delay. Parrish was joined by righthander C.J. Van Eyk and lefthander Jonah Scolaro.

But Martin knew all along who would pitch the ninth for Florida State. Throughout the delay, Parrish had gotten up every 15 minutes to throw with pitching coach Mike Bell to stay fresh. Returning to the game was a tough task for Parrish, who had thrown 109 pitches in eight innings before the delay. He did not appear as sharp in the ninth as he had earlier in the day. He walked Jake Mangum to start the inning—his first walk of the day—got the next two batters and then issued another walk to bring MacNamee to the plate for the fateful at bat.

Martin said he wouldn’t have done anything differently.

“We wanted him to have the ball because he wanted the ball, his teammates wanted him to have the ball,” Martin said. “If I had to do it over again, I would make the same decision.”

In the end, Florida State’s season is over far before it was expected to be. The Seminoles began the season ranked No. 3 but immediately hit adversity when Preseason All-American lefthander Tyler Holton was injured on Opening Day and required Tommy John surgery. Florida State overcame that loss and went on to have another 40-win season and win the Atlantic Coast Conference for the second consecutive year. Along the way, Martin, 73, passed Augie Garrido for the all-time wins record and finishes the year with 1,987 career victories. But, again, the sport’s biggest prize eluded Martin and Florida State, which is still searching for its first national championship.

Martin’s contract is up after this season but after 39 successful years as head coach, it will likely be up to him to decide whether he wants to continue. He said he will meet with athletic director Stan Wilcox in the coming week about his future.

In the immediate, however, Martin was grappling with the loss.

“It hurts, guys, it hurts,” he said. “Good Lord willing, I’ll see the sun come up tomorrow. Life will go on. But this one hurt.”

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Across the field, Mississippi State lives to fight another day in what has been a uniquely challenging season. The Bulldogs overcame the stunning resignation of former coach Andy Cannizaro after the first weekend of the season for off-field reasons and have fought through a schedule heavy on road games due to the on-going construction at Dudy Noble Field.

Through it all, Mississippi State has never stopped fighting under the guidance of interim head coach Gary Henderson. The Bulldogs weren’t going to go easily Saturday and they maintained their belief until the end.

Just before MacNamee’s home run, Henderson reinforced that belief in a dugout chat with assistant coach Jake Gautreau.

“I said, ‘Mac can run it off the scoreboard right here,’” Henderson said. “We say those things in the dugout all the time, but that happened. I’m not calling the shot, but I’m saying there’s belief.”

Mississippi State isn’t about to stop believing, either. The Bulldogs last year fought through the losers’ bracket to win the Hattiesburg Regional and believes it can do so again this year. And with the hosts now eliminated, the regional feels more wide open than Hattiesburg ever did.

Mangum, who has been Mississippi State’s sparkplug for three years, isn’t ready for this wild season to end. And so, he and the rest of the Bulldogs will fight on in Tallahassee.

"This year's been a crazy one," Mangum said. “This team's an emotional roller coaster.

“We're Bulldogs. It's nothing you can really explain. This team has been a lot of fun to watch in big games.”

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