May 11, 2014 8:29:29 PM
STARKVILLE -- Cody Walker wasn't even sure how much more he'd be playing this season.
Before this weekend, Mississippi State's third-string catcher had only seen action in three Southeastern Conference games. However, there was Walker, a .198 hitter, watching a ball four from Tennessee reliever Andrew Lee for the walk-off run-scoring action in the 12th inning of a 4-3 victory.
The game-winning walk came after MSU nearly squandered a bases loaded situation with no outs in the final inning.
"I was taking all the way on that 3-1 pitch and I sure waited to make sure the ump wasn't calling it a strike," said Walker.
Walker, a junior college transfer from Columbus, Ga., had just five SEC at-bats before being called into duty in the second inning. After starter Preston Brown struggled to get through a 30-pitch outing, MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson called for the second battery change this weekend. Walker accompanied reliever Lucas Laster out of the MSU bullpen with the Bulldogs down 3-1.
Walker was sent in the game as a defensive specialist replacement but was then asked in a clutch spot to find any way to get to first base to end the contest.
"I'm really proud of Cody because most importantly he came in and caught a really good game for us and then turns out gets the game-winning RBI," MSU coach John Cohen said. "In practice you kept watching Cody get better and better and we've had some struggles behind the plate. He deserved that opportunity."
Walker became the sixth different MSU player this season to contribute a walk-off moment this season.
MSU (33-19, 16-11 in SEC) is now 6-0 in extra inning contests this season. On the flip side, Tennessee leaves Dudy Noble Field with two extra-inning losses and the feeling that a road series victory was a play or two away.
"I don't want to back into anything," Tennessee coach Dave Serrano said about their postseason outlook. "We fought but we're still trying to win these types of games in this type of atmosphere."
Walker's 12th inning free pass was his second of the game as his first walk led to Wes Rea showing a power glimpse that tied the game. Tennessee sophomore left-hander Andy Cox made a crucial mistake to Rea that was lined over the left field wall for a game-tying two-run home run.
"I told (Cox) it's not the home run to Rea I get disappointed with but it's the walk before that," Serrano said. "For whatever reason, (Cox) was completely out of character all afternoon because he had no command of his fastball. We played with fire early on the mound and they didn't take advantage of it."
Tennessee (29-20, 11-16) was just unable to figure out MSU's bullpen all weekend as four Bulldogs relief arms combined to toss 20 1/3 innings of scoreless work on the mound. The Volunteers left 21 runners on base in the last three games. In his second relief appearance of the weekend, MSU junior Jacob Lindgren (4-1) tied his career high for strikeouts with eight over the final 5 1/3 innings. The MSU left-hander has not allowed an earned run in 19 2/3 consecutive innings.
Laster also provided 5 2/3 innings of shutout relief to keep MSU in a game they badly needed for positioning in the league tournament that starts in Hoover, Ala., just two weeks from now.
"Lucas and Lingo were both great today," Cohen said. "They really attacked the zone and challenged hitters. If we have one inning back from this series, it's a totally different weekend."
The Volunteers got its three runs in the first two innings when another error by the MSU catcher caused another wide open inning for the road team. MSU starting catcher Gavin Collins threw the ball into centerfield and after another eventful day for the freshman behind the plate, Walker would replace him in the second inning.
After playing error free baseball for 29 1/3 innings, two critical Tennessee throwing miscues in the 12th inning Saturday gave MSU an opportunity at another series victory in Starkville.
With one weekend of play left in the regular season, MSU sits one game back of Ole Miss for first place in the Western Division standings. Ole Miss, MSU, LSU and Alabama all have mathematical possibilities to win the division going into the final three games of play.
"We still have a ton to play for and our kids realize that," Cohen said.
MSU closes the regular season this weekend at Alabama. The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide meet at 6:35 p.m. Thursday, 6:05 p.m. Friday (CBS Sports Network) and 3:05 p.m. Saturday (Comcast Sports Southeast).
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.
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