April 12, 2014 10:29:29 PM
STARKVILLE -- Gavin Collins mother, Shannon, just couldn't contain her joy. And who could blame her?
Coming from a small community near Orange County, Calif., Shannon and her husband, Brendan, had never been to a game at Dudy Noble Field before this weekend. Now their first experience includes watching their son hit a walk-off single in the 10th inning in front of an announced record crowd of 15,586 to propel Mississippi State to a 6-5 win over Ole Miss.
"You gave me the best birthday present ever," Shannon Collins screamed at her son before she hugged him after the win. Mrs. Collins birthday is Monday.
What Gavin Collins was promised during his recruitment to Mississippi State was the best atmosphere for college baseball. Consider that promise kept.
Over a year later, Collins' trek of 1,976 miles from Lake Forest, Calif., culminated with the Bulldogs nearly unfathomable victory Saturday over the hated in-state rival.
Collins had one goal in mind when deciding where to play his college baseball.
"He wanted to go a place where baseball was important," MSU assistant coach Nick Mingione said about Collins after the win.
Mingione was the Bulldogs primary recruiter on Collins after he saw him perform at a Perfect Game showcase tournament in Atlanta. Mingione followed the prospect from Atlanta to North Carolina and the Team USA Under-18 national team games. Even after Collins signed with MSU, it might have taken until Saturday for the 18-year-old to realize how important baseball is in Starkville.
"I came here for this moment, the SEC and I love these people in Mississippi," Collins said. "It's moments like this and fans like these that will catapult our season right now. I can promise you that is true."
California isn't and likely never will be a recruiting footprint for MSU baseball and it's for that reason along with the interest from professional baseball that had MSU coach John Cohen worried he'd never arrive on campus. However, Collins' day both offensively and defensively was a taste of what Cohen has been talking about regarding his highly touted prospect.
"It's neat to see the look on his mother's face having never seen this facility before this weekend," Cohen said. "That young man has come forward for us and done a great job behind the plate. He's got a chance to be one of the best catchers in college baseball before it's all said and done,"
Collins finished the day 3 for 5 with a pair of RBIs, none more important than the one that sent everybody home. He took a cutter from Ole Miss reliever Preston Tarkington and deposited it into left field allowing pinch runner Matthew Britton to score the winning run. The part of the nationally record-setting crowd who stayed, despite Ole Miss putting up three runs in the top of the frame, were immediately thrilled they had no better place to be.
"I'm looking at a box score that says the attendance was 15,586 but I want to say after the top of the 10th, it got down to 7,000," Cohen said.
The crowd number was NCAA on-campus attendance record but those that weren't sprinting to the exits were dead silent enough to hear Sikes Orvis scream 'boom!'. The Ole Miss power hitter was loud after he rounded the bases following a 2-run home run off MSU closer Jonathan Holder to give the Rebels a 4-2 lead.
Four runs in the bottom of the 10th inning gave MSU only its ninth ever victory in the 343-game tenure under Cohen when the Bulldogs are down after eight innings.
"We were ready for something special to happen even when we were down to start our half of the 10th inning," MSU outfielder Derrick Armstrong said. "We had to keep fighting. We had no choice."
MSU (22-14, 7-7 in Southeastern Conference) got multi-hit days from Collins, Brett Pirtle, Seth Heck, Alex Detz and Armstrong but it might have been the only hit of the game by Wes Rea that provided the momentum swing. Before the at-bat, which had MSU down to its final strike, Rea was 1 for his last 19 with nine strikeouts and hadn't gotten extra-base hit since the calendar flipped to April. The 270-pound junior's bloop single into short right field scored Detz from first base and sent the crowd into a frenzy.
"From that moment on, we knew something good was going to happen," Collins said. "The baseball gods were with us and we believed that after that hit."
As a All-SEC player himself, Cohen knows exactly how his players felt as they mobbed Collins at first base following the walk-off win.
"This is something that our kids will never forget," Cohen said. "You talk to players that come from our program to the big leagues and they remember days like this. What a great feeling."
In the opposite dugout, misery was the company of Bianco and Ole Miss (28-9, 8-6) as they lost their third consecutive walk-off loss in 10 innings. The Rebels lost in walk-off fashion at South Carolina and at Alabama before arriving in Starkville for their third road series of SEC play.
"You've got to give them credit, I'm not trying to take anything away from them," Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. "But I really felt we blew it."
Both teams will play a rubber game for the series at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
5. SCT's 'Almost, Maine': it's love ... but not quite ENTERTAINMENT