By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE – In an instant on Friday, Vanderbilt looked poise to close a dramatic, come-from-behind win in an NCAA Super Regional.
In another, the Commodores painfully watched the air disappear from their sails – all due to a single swing by a Mississippi State batter.
“Obviously, a tough game for Vanderbilt,” Vandy head coach Tim Corbin said.
Heartbreak was the prevailing narrative following the Dores’ deflating 10-8 loss to Mississippi State in Game 1 of the NCAA Nashville Super Regional on Friday. Vanderbilt had spent much of the night rallying in front of a sellout crowd at Hawkins Field, a come-from-behind journey that left the matchup tied heading into the bottom of the ninth inning.
But Mississippi State had other plans. With one out, MSU’s Elijah MacNamee launched a walk-off, two-run homer off Vandy reliever Zach King to seal Game 1 for Mississippi State. The Commodores’ comeback had been snuffed out, all while the Bulldogs managed to steal control of the best-of-three NCAA series.
“We basically opened the door for them a couple times, but then they got the big hits,” Corbin said.
The Dores – winners of the Clemson Regional for the second-straight year – failed to keep MSU at bay for much of the night. Mississippi State took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second before a pair of Bulldog errors in the third helped Vanderbilt score two and tie things up. MSU struck again in the third, notching a five-run inning spearheaded by a three-run homer from MacNamee that pushed the Bulldogs ahead, 7-2.
Things looked dire before the Commodores turned on the heat in the top of the fifth. They authored a five-run inning of their own, complete with a two-run bomb by freshman Pat DeMarco that knotted the score at 7-7. Suddenly, momentum seemed to favor the black and gold.
But a back-and-forth night wouldn’t relent as MSU’s Jake Mangum bounced a single over the head of Commodore first basemen Julian Infante in the bottom of the eighth. The hit allowed Luke Alexander to score and give the Bulldogs an 8-7 lead.
Vanderbilt had one final chance to survive in the top of the ninth. Yet again, the freshman DeMarco managed to steal the spotlight. The Staten Island, N.Y. native launched a triple to deep left and reached home on an error to spark an eruption from the home crowd and keep Vandy alive, 8-8.
That euphoria, however, would be short-lived. MacNamee’s walk-off homer in the bottom of the inning cleared the Mississippi State dugout and ignited a rowdy celebration of maroon at home plate of Hawkins Field. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, watched an opportunity slip away.
The disappointment was palpable as the Commodores waded through the postgame crowd. But Corbin said he saw his team fight in the midst of an ugly game. Vanderbilt committed an uncharacteristic three errors – MSU recorded four of its own – in an ugly outing that came down to one final swing. Reliable starter Drake Fellows allowed six earned runs in 4.1 innings. Plus, the Commodores finished just 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and gave up 11 hits.
Playing far from their best game, the Dores’ heart kept them in the matchup, said Corbin.
“Defensively, [it was] probably the worst game we’ve played all year,” Corbin said. “For the game to be tight and come down to the last inning, it says something about the kids. They were very scrappy, they came back several times.”
Of course, close won’t be enough for Vanderbilt in Game 2 at The Hawk on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ESPN). With a trip to Omaha on the line, it’s do-or-die time for the Commodores, who swept Mississippi State in Starkville earlier this season. No one knows the stakes better than Corbin, whose postseason resume speaks for itself. So when asked how Vanderbilt plans to stave off elimination on Saturday, the Commodores’ head coach kept things simple.
“We’ll come back tomorrow and play well,” Corbin said. “That’s all.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.