May 12, 2014 9:56:38 AM
STARKVILLE -- Cody Walker wasn't sure how much more he would play this season.
Before this weekend, the Mississippi State baseball team's third-string catcher had only played in three Southeastern Conference games. However, it was Walker, a .198 hitter, who earned a walk-off walk against reliever Andrew Lee to lift No. 21 MSU to a 4-3 victory against Tennessee in 12 innings at Dudy Noble Field.
The walk came after MSU nearly squandered a bases-loaded situation with no outs.
"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," Walker said.
Walker, a junior college transfer from Columbus, Ga., had just five at-bats in SEC games before he was called into duty in the second inning. After starter Preston Brown was lifted after 30 pitches, MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson called for the second battery change this weekend. Walker accompanied reliever Lucas Laster out of the bullpen with the Bulldogs trailing 3-1.
Walker was sent in the game as a defensive replacement for Gavin Collins, but later in the game he was asked to find any way to get to first base in a clutch spot.
"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 MSU player to have a walk-off moment.
MSU (33-19, 16-11 SEC) is 6-0 in extra inning contests. On the flip side, Tennessee left 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 his team's postseason outlook. "We fought, but we're still trying to win these types of games in this type of atmosphere."
Walker's was his second of the game. His first one came before Wes Rea lined a pitch from sophomore left-hander Andy Cox 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."
While MSU couldn't capitalize against Cox, Tennessee (29-20, 11-16) couldn't figure out MSU's bullpen all weekend, as four relievers combined to throw 20 1/3 scoreless innings. The Volunteers left 21 runners on base in three games. In his second relief appearance of the weekend, MSU junior Jacob Lindgren (4-1) had eight strikeouts to match his career high in 5 1/3 innings. The left-hander hasn't allowed an earned run in 19 2/3 innings.
Laster also provided 5 2/3 innings of shutout relief to keep MSU in a game it badly needed for positioning in the league tournament, which starts in two weeks in Hoover, Ala.
"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 scored their three runs in the first two innings thanks in part to an error by Collins, who threw the ball into center field trying to catch Christin Stewart stealing second in the first.
After playing error-free baseball for 29 1/3 innings, Tennessee had two throwing miscues in the 12th to give MSU an opportunity at another series victory in Starkville.
With one weekend of play left in the regular season, MSU is one game behind Ole Miss for first place in the SEC Western Division standings. Ole Miss, MSU, LSU, and Alabama all have chances to win the division entering the final weekend.
"We still have a ton to play for, and our kids realize that," Cohen said.
MSU will close the regular season this weekend at Alabama. The teams will meet at 6:35 p.m. Thursday, at 6:05 p.m. Friday (CBS Sports Network), and at 3:05 p.m. Saturday (Comcast Sports Southeast).
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.