OMAHA, Neb. –– Another night, another mass Mississippi State celebration on the field after a walk-off victory. Let’s just imagine if the Bulldogs pull this whole thing off at the College World Series.If the team that had to change head coaches after three games this season ends up the national champions. If Mississippi State, who lost 15 games before April, is really the bunch that nobody in Omaha can beat. If the plucky pack of never-say-diers who now have three walk-off hits in the NCAA Tournament – the third came Saturday night, to beat Washington in a pitching and defense tour de force, 1-0 – keeps adding to the drama.
“We’ve said if we win the whole thing, ESPN will have to do a 30-for-30 on us,” shortstop Luke Alexander mentioned, after driving in Saturday’s one and only run. “We were joking. But they might.”
And they might want to start with him.
Luke Alexander, the junior who committed to Mississippi State . . . in the eighth grade. Think he’s dreamed a while of a moment like Saturday night? “Walk-off, game one is even more than a dream,” he said.
How do they keep doing this?!— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 17, 2018
Luke Alexander, the .213 hitter during the season who shook off all balls that got caught to have two walk-off hits against Ole Miss. If you’re a Mississippi State player and you beat Ole Miss, nobody asks about your low batting average. “I think the first thing you gotta do is you gotta learn how to deal in a mature fashion with failure in our game,” coach Gary Henderson was saying.
Luke Alexander, who didn’t blink an eye when he fell behind 0-2 in the ninth inning Saturday, before drilling an Alex Hardy slider over the right fielder’s head to settle an immaculately played game. There were no errors and only one walk – an intentional pass – and it was all over with one run in 2:44. “A tremendous rarity in college baseball,” Henderson called the 1-0 score.
By the way, that was nearly two hours under what it took North Carolina to beat Oregon State in the afternoon. Alexander helped by ending it. World Series nerves? What nerves?
“I really didn’t even think about the situation,” he said. “I knew I just needed to get him in. My first walk-off against Ole Miss, I was more nervous than I was there because I knew I could do it. I’ve done it twice this year. I just looked at my bat and said let’s do this once again.”
Bulldogs win a 1-0 nail biter! It's the 3rd walk-off hit for Luke Alexander this season; 7th walk-off win for Mississippi State— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 17, 2018
Apparently, his bat nodded OK. It’s become the winning method of choice for the Bulldogs this month. “I don’t know why we save it for the end, but we’re pretty good at it,” Alexander said. “I just think we’re a lot of tough guys.”Not to mention in love with the name on their jerseys. He certainly is. Has been since that Sunday at summer camp when he was an eighth grader, and then-Mississippi State coach John Cohen had been so impressed, he took Alexander into his office and told him he wanted him to be a Bulldog one day.
Alexander promised at that moment he was in. Middle schoolers change their minds faster than they change their socks, but this decision turned out to be in stone.
“I never even once thought about it,” Alexander said. “This means the world to me. Kids would die to play for the team they really want to play for.”
Representing Mississippi State in the College World Series was part of his fantasy, but did he see himself winning games in Rosenblatt Stadium or TD Ameritrade Park?
“Honestly I have no clue, it’s been so long ago,” he said.
Like maybe, eight years. But here he is now, helping Mississippi State confound the odds and continue to squeeze dramatic victories out of this postseason. How long can that last?
“Maybe to the end of the World Series,” he said, “and we’re holding that trophy.”
He thought about that in the eighth grade, too. Still does.