(Editor's note: The following was first published on d1baseball.com. Use code Save30 for a discounted subscription.)
STARKVILLE, Miss — Two last-place teams met Saturday and the game mattered to a whole lot of people.
An NCAA record-setting 16,423 attendance was announced. With spectators streaming through the gates for much of the nine innings, getting an accurate count felt like guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar. Those in attendance, especially the ones fortunate enough for a view of the field, endured a game that was as packed as the ballpark. Rallies, home runs, errors, and strikeouts, and that just gets us started.
When Mississippi State slugger Colton Ledbetter smashed a home run into the right field seats to lift the home-standing Bulldogs to a one-run, seventh-inning lead, even those without a view knew the Maroon and White did something good. There are moments when words don’t suffice. All one needed to do was listen to the volume as Ledbetter rounded the bags.
𝗛𝗘 𝗗𝗜𝗗 𝗜𝗧 𝗔𝗚𝗔𝗜𝗡!!! Led💣— Mississippi State Baseball (@HailStateBB) April 15, 2023
📺 » https://t.co/XU0qUVsKZp#HailState🐶 | #SBW23 pic.twitter.com/u7DzImpstP
The game rolled into the ninth with the Bulldogs up a run, and both teams had their best hitters due up. In a game filled with momentum swings, of course, the outcome would be in doubt until the final pitch.
Ole Miss led off the ninth with consecutive doubles, first by Ethan Groff and then by Jacob Gonzalez. That brought the game even and ignited a small but vocal group of Rebel fans. After a fly out, Kemp Alderman was intentionally walked. Anthony Calarco, who homered earlier, connected with an RBI single to score Gonzalez to give the Rebels a one-run lead.
Then it was Mississippi State’s turn to bat, and the record crowd did everything within its power to affect the game. Amani Larry, who didn’t start due to a migraine, drew a leadoff walk. Ole Miss went to the bullpen for freshman Sam Tookoian. After a sacrifice moved Larry to second, Ledbetter strode to the plate. He already had homered not once but twice in the game. Back in the sixth, he and Hunter Hines had slugged back-to-back bombs.
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Tookoian, with the crowd chanting, got an 0-2 count on Ledbetter but then walked him. After a wild pitch advanced the runners, Hines also walked on a full count.
Dakota Jordan was now up. In Friday’s loss, Jordan had homered but also struck out to end the game.
“My approach going up there was telling myself, they’re not getting you again,” said Jordan. “Be a hard-nosed guy and do whatever you’ve got to do to get the job done. The crowd was on our side. (Tookoian) wasn’t throwing a lot of pitches for strikes and I was just waiting to get one pitch.”
After three walks in the inning, Jordan got the 2-0 green light and laced a grounder past the Ole Miss third baseman into left field, scoring Larry and Ledbetter to give Mississippi State an 8-7 victory.
DAKOTA JORDAN WALKS IT OFF. DAWGS WIN!!!!!!!!!#HailState🐶 | #SBW23 pic.twitter.com/UgBnKo0luh— Mississippi State Baseball (@HailStateBB) April 15, 2023
“Gaut (hitting coach Jake Gautreau) and I were debating, should we take here? I think that was six balls in a row,” said Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis. “Dakota’s been real good, and we felt like we’d get a pitch to hit. It was a special moment for him, one he’ll remember for the rest of his life.”
Jordan’s clutch hit sent the home team fans home happy, even if most didn’t immediately leave as they celebrated a moment those present (and others who will say they were there) will likely never forget. And as the celebration continued, the MSU events teams rolled a portable stage out near second base for a postgame concert with country star Brett Eldridge.
For those fortunate enough to attend, Jordan’s hit capped an epic see-saw battle on a day where two last-place teams had the best scene in baseball.
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On a weekend that had been planned for months, you couldn’t have scripted a better ending for the home crowd, who undoubtedly impacted the game, and relished the victory as Jordan celebrated with them.
“I don’t know what I was thinking. I blacked out,” Jordan said. “I saw my teammates coming towards me, and I was just pointing to the crowd. Our fans came out and did their thing.
“And we did ours.”