HOOVER, Ala. Mississippi State’s Ben Jenkins and Brian Weise, who had combined for only four homers and 24 RBI this season, did their best Rafael Palmiero and Will Clark impersonation Wednesday night.
Jenkins crushed a three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning to lift Mississippi State past pesky Vanderbilt 8-5 in the opening round of the SEC Tournament.
The win, before 4,144 at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, improved the Bulldogs to 37-20 and virtually assured Mississippi State a berth in next week’s NCAA Tournament. MSU, the No. 5 seed, will face No. 2 seed Florida at 3:30 p.m. today.
“I don’t think it was a must game, but it was definitely important for us,” MSU coach Ron Polk said. “With the schedule we’ve played and being the No. 5 seed, this one should lock it up for us. Obviously, the homers were the key hits.”
Weise, who came into the game hitting .279 with one homer and six RBI, popped a two-run shot in the second inning to get MSU off to a good start, highlighting a four-run inning.
However, it was Jenkins that delivered the decisive blow after Vanderbilt (29-25) had rallied to tie the game and threatened to spring an upset over the Bulldogs.
Vanderbilt made it tough on MSU starter Eric DuBose despite 12 strikeouts by the left-hander. The Commodores had four runs in the third frame and tied the game an inning later when Ashland’s Jason Farese scored on Chris Christensen’s squeeze bunt.
“I was a little scared early,” DuBose said. “But I settled down after that bad inning and my fastball actually got better as the game went on.”
That set up the heroics by Jenkins in a rally that began with two quick outs. Pinch hitter Damian Scioneaux coaxed a walk, as did Brad Freeman.
“Those were huge at-bats and Damian fouled off a couple of pitches to stay alive and get a walk,” Polk said. “Brad had the green light with a 3-0 count and was disciplined enough to take the walk. We’re glad he did.”
Jenkins, who platoons in the outfield and plays against left-handers, hit the one-strike pitch over the wall in the left field power alley.
“The at-bat before I had a fastball and missed it,” Jenkins said. “The thing I was concentrating on was getting another fastball and making good contact. I knew I hit it well.”
DuBose, who threw 135 pitches, had to pitch to the tying run with two outs. But DuBose fanned Clinton Johnston to seal it.
“Well, we made history today,” Polk said. “Kentucky and us became the first teams to survive in the world’s first single-elimination baseball tournament.
“Now the real tournament begins.”
MISSISSIPPI STATE 8, VANDERBILT 5
Vandy 004 100 000 – 5 9 1
MSU 041 003 00x – 8 10 4
WP – Eric DuBose (9-4). LP – Paul Seybt (8-3). Multiple hits – (V) Josh Paul 3, Tydus Meadows 2. (MS) Ben Jenkins 3, Richard Lee 2, Adam Piatt 2. 2B – (V) Ryan Hobbs.(MS) Richard Lee 2, Adam Piatt 2, David Hayman. HR – (MS) Brian Weise, Ben Jenkins.
Records: Vanderbilt 29-25. Mississippi State 37-20. Attendance: 4,134. Time: 2:36.