By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
HOOVER, Ala. – As Tuesday dragged on into Wednesday and the zeros kept going up on the scoreboard, Mississippi State’s dugout remained largely tension-free.
The Bulldogs were engaged in what turned out to be an epic 17-inning game against Missouri in the first round of the SEC Tournament.
It finally ended at 12:24 a.m. – four hours, 39 minutes after it began – when catcher Mitch Slauter lofted an RBI single to center field with two outs for a 2-1 MSU victory.
The dugout erupted much the way it had a year earlier when the Bulldogs won the SEC Tournament title, with the players spilling onto the field and mobbing Slauter. They didn’t take joy only in the victory, because they were clearly enjoying themselves in the dugout during the game.
MSU missed several opportunities offensively earlier in the game to salt away victory, but the failures did not dampen the enthusiasm on the bench.
“We went back and did our pregame chant in … it was the 14th or 15th,” Slauter said. “We were just doing anything we could to try and spark something to score that run.”
The Bulldogs try all sorts of things in the dugout. There are the rally caps, which for most players are MSU’s green St. Patrick’s Day caps. Sometimes, in the ninth inning especially, players will mill around the dugout in a semi-organized fashion in what they call the “walk-off walk.”
There’s always plenty of yelling and encouraging, and the mood is generally light. Even pitcher Will Cox – who got the win Tuesday in relief and, like most pitchers, crawls into a cocoon after coming off the mound – is able to enjoy the atmosphere.
“We have so much fun in the dugout, and we stay loose, and we’re able to win ballgames,” Cox said.
Is there a correlation between MSU being loose in the dugout and winning games? Well, against Ole Miss a couple of weekends ago, State came from six runs down to win. Then it overcame a three-run deficit to beat South Carolina last weekend.
MSU had two walk-off, extra-inning wins against Alabama earlier this season. It trailed Missouri and its ace, Rob Zastryzny, 1-0 early in Tuesday’s game.
This group is not easily fazed.
“We stay in it,” Cox said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the 27th inning, we’re still going to be doing some rat tails or some hat-stacking thing over here, keeping it loose, keeping it fun, and rallying to win.”