GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Mississippi State's first walk-off home run of the season Saturday afternoon lifted the Bulldogs to within one win of reaching the College World Series. Nick Vickerson's two-run blast carried the 16th-ranked Bulldogs to a 4-3 victory over No. 1 Florida in a Super Regional baseball game played at McKethan Stadium.
The Bulldogs' fourth-ever Super Regional series is now tied at a game apiece. The longtime Southeastern Conference rivals meet again at 1 p.m. ET Sunday with a trip to Omaha hanging in the balance. The Super Regional finale will be televised nationally by ESPN and streamed on-line at ESPN3.com. Free audio of MSU's radio broadcast will also be available at www.mstateathletics.com/m2mlive.
Playing as the designated home team Saturday afternoon, Jarrod Parks lined a leadoff single to start the Bulldog ninth inning. The Gators then turned to their fourth pitcher of the day - Steven Rodriguez. Rodriguez's first pitch was blasted by Vickerson into the outfield bleachers, just short of where Florida's 2011 Southeastern Conference championship is recognized.
For the Bulldogs, it was their third walk-off win of the season. MSU will actually play in its first-ever third game of a Super Regional series. In its previous three appearances, the Bulldogs either swept (2007) or were swept (2000 and 2001). MSU (38-24) will be playing for it first College World Series berth since 2007, while Florida (49-17) is trying to return after playing in last season's event.
"I was glad to get the opportunity to swing," said Vickerson, who had also hit MSU's last postseason home run - three weeks ago against Florida in the SEC Tournament. "We had the bunt on with (Florida pitcher Nick) Maronde. Coach (Nick) Mingione came up and asked (Coach Cohen) about giving me a strike."
Apparently, it was an easy sell.
"Vick really wanted to swing," Cohen said. "Mingione came up and said let's give him a strike. I have mentioned a number of times Florida is not going to give you anything. You are going to have to beat Florida. Our kids went out and got it."
The Bulldogs' late-game heroics backed an outstanding pitcher performer by junior closer Caleb Reed (1-1). Reed pitched the final 5.1 innings to earn his first victory of the season. The Bulldog right-hander allowed four hits and one run (earned), with two strikeouts and one walk. Reed began his day with 10 outs over the first 11 at-bats of his appearance.
"Getting outs and throwing strikes," Reed said. "That's what you have to do against this Florida lineup. You have to pound the strike zone and avoid walks."
After winning Friday's series opener by an 11-1 count, the Gators grabbed the early lead Saturday as well. Florida led 2-0 after it scored single runs off MSU starting pitcher Nick Routt in the third and fourth innings.
Cody Dent began the Florida third inning with a leadoff single. Leadoff hitter Bryson Smith followed with a double to right center. A line drive sacrifice fly by Nolan Fontana scored the game's first run.
Josh Adams began the fourth inning with his sixth home run of the year. After a flyout, back-to-back singles and a foulout, Routt gave way to Reed.
While Reed kept the Gators at bay, the Bulldogs kept grinding and eventually found a way to pull even. Florida true-freshman starter Karsten Whitson actually allowed only two base runners and one hit through the first six innings.
In the MSU seventh inning, Vickerson started things with a one-out infield single. Down 1-2 in the count, Jaron Shepherd followed with a line-drive single through the right side of the infield. Cody Freeman followed with an RBI-single. The Gators turned to Tommy Toledo in relief. Toledo was touched for a game-tying RBI-single by Brent Brownlee. With two on and one out, the Gators got a critical double play to escape that jam.
In the eighth inning, UF grabbed another lead. Mike Zunino started things with a leadoff double. After a foulout, a wild pitch moved Zunino to third base. After a strikeout, Tyler Thompson laced a go-ahead RBI-triple to the left center gap.
In the eighth innings, the Bulldogs went quietly as Maronde put down both batters he faced in relief. The UF ace reliever would not be as fortunate an inning later.
The Bulldogs finished with seven hits. Vickerson had two hits and a pair of RBIs.
The Gators finished with 11 hits. Smith had three hits, while Zunino and Adams each had multiple hits.