Mississippi State's Nick Vickerson crosses home plate as teammates cheer after his walk-off home run against Florida Saturday in Gainesville. Photo by: Gene Swindoll/Special to the Dispatch
June 11, 2011 9:27:00 PM
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Nick Vickerson wanted the chance to be a postseason hero.
The scenario was there Saturday in the Gainesville Super Regional: bottom of the ninth with one runner on and a one-run deficit.
With his first pitch from University of Florida reliever Steven Rodriguez, Vickerson hit a two-run, walkoff home run to left field to lift the Mississippi State baseball team to a 4-3 win.
"I knew it wasn''t getting caught," Vickerson said. "I didn''t know if it was going out. I didn''t see it go out; I heard it hit that back fence and then I just saw everybody come onto the field, so that''s when I knew."
Vickerson almost didn''t get the opportunity to swing.
Before Rodriguez entered the game, Florida reliever Nick Maronde was on the hill. Though Vickerson hit a home run off Maronde in the Southeastern Conference tournament -- the last time MSU hit a home run -- MSU coaches had called for Vickerson to bunt to advance Jarrod Parks, who singled in the previous at-bat.
Vickerson, who was 0-for-2 with a pair of strikeouts against Rodriguez, got the chance when assistant coach Nick Mingione suggested to coach John Cohen that Vickerson get a strike to swing.
"I think if you''re a coach in the Southeastern Conference, your whole life is rolling the dice," Cohen said. "Knowing Nick hadn''t taken great swings against the lefty that came in, he had a look in his eye like, ''I definitely want to swing it here.'' I''m a big believer in letting a player make that decision. Do you want to bunt here? Do you want to swing it? How are you seeing this thing? You have to let your players make good decisions."
Vickerson, MSU''s dynamo of the postseason with nine RBIs in seven games, turned a fastball into a lifeline that has the Bulldogs (38-24) one win away from reaching the College World Series for the ninth time, and the first time since 2007.
MSU and Florida will play Game 3 at noon today (ESPN).
A day after losing the series opener 11-1, the Bulldogs'' turnaround took a few innings to get going after the Gators chased MSU starter Nick Routt in the fourth. The junior left-hander gave up two earned runs on seven hits before junior closer Caleb Reed stabilized the game with 5 1/3 innings of relief to earn his first career SEC win. He allowed one earned run on four hits.
"He pretty much had everything working for him," Florida''s Josh Adams said of Reed. "He had a game plan when he went out there. He just pretty much went out there and did his job."
Cohen felt MSU hit at least 10 quality balls that were caught Friday.
In the bottom of the seventh Saturday, the shots started to fall.
Vickerson and Jaron Shepherd had back-to-back singles, which broke starting pitcher Karsten Whitson''s streak of 13 straight retired. Florida coach Kevin O''Sullivan visited Whitson and decided to leave the freshman in the game with runners on the corners.
Senior Cody Freeman, who fell behind in the count at 1-2, delivered an RBI single that prompted O''Sullivan to bring in Tommy Toledo, who started against MSU in the SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala.
Toledo got ahead of Brent Brownlee, who looked at two straight strikes, but the junior lined an RBI single to center to tie the game 2-2.
"I think balls just started to find holes," Whitson said. "I was still getting ahead and making good pitches. You got to tip your hat to their hitters. They were battling and balls found holes."
Whitson surrendered two earned runs on four hits in 6 1/3 innings. He struck out six and walked one.
Florida regained the lead in the top of the eighth on an RBI triple by Tyler Thompson but came up empty in the top of the ninth after getting two runners on. SEC Player of the Year Mike Zunino grounded out to third base to end the threat.
"I felt like we played a really good game," O''Sullivan said. "We didn''t give them anything. They took advantage of their opportunities. We knew this wasn''t going to be easy. We''ve got plenty of pitching and we look forward to tomorrow."