By The Associated Press
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The original plan was for Nick Vickerson to bunt. It’s a good thing Mississippi State coach John Cohen reconsidered.
The senior second baseman hammered the first pitch he saw over the fench in left-center field for a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday, giving the Bulldogs a 4-3 victory over Florida and tying up their best-of-three NCAA Super Regional.
“He had a look in his eye like, ‘I definitely want to swing it here,’” Cohen said. “And 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.”
The two teams will meet again Sunday with the winner going to the College World Series. Game 3 is Sunday at noon on ESPN.
“I was just trying to hit a ball hard and thankfully it went out of the park,” said Vickerson, who had struck out twice in his three previous at-bats. “I didn’t know if I got it up enough. I knew it wasn’t getting caught. I didn’t know if it was going out or not.
Jarrod Parks led off the ninth with a single off Florida reliever Nick Maronde. Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan went to the bullpen and Steven Rodriguez, another left-hander, who struck out Vickerson both times he had faced him this season.
This time, Vickerson came out on top.
“I heard it hit that back fence and then I just saw everybody come onto the field, so that’s when I knew,” Vickerson said.
Vickerson would have been facing Florida closer Austin Maddox, who has a team-high five saves, but Maddox hasn’t played since spraining his left foot in the opener of the Gainesville regional. He spent the game on crutches.
O’Sullivan said he considered leaving in Maronde, who had a 1.66 ERA and two saves, but went with Rodriguez, who was 3-2 with a 1.44 ERA.
“Flip a coin, it’s either him or Maronde,” O’Sullivan said. “Obviously that was the role that Austin had earned and had been doing a really good job with, but now without him we’re trying to do different things here.”
The Gators had built a 2-0 lead on Nolan Fontana’s sacrifice fly in the third and Josh Adams’ solo home run in the sixth inning.
The Bulldogs (38-24) tied the game with two runs in the seventh on back-to-back RBI singles by Cody Freeman and Brent Brownlee, but Florida (49-17) regained the lead in the eighth on Tyler Thompson’s triple to deep center field.
Read more about this game in Sunday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.