June 9, 2018 9:30:54 PM
NASHVILLE -- Jake Mangum's reputation as a hit artist spent two years as well established and a third in a growth period, as his junior season has seen him add a power streak, one that's been projected by some but seen live by none. The junior from Pearl who used to live off of singles, some of them of the bunting variety, has now added the ability to spray doubles on command and even hit the occasional home run.
For a brief moment, it looked as if the most influential hit of his Mississippi State baseball career would travel all of two feet before hitting the ground.
In the bottom of the eighth inning on Friday, with the go-ahead run on third, Mangum drilled a ball into the Hawkins Field turf and watched it soar almost 90 feet, mere inches past the first baseman's glove and scoring the run. It was not the game-winning run, thanks to a Vanderbilt (34-26) run in the ninth and Elijah MacNamee's ensuing walkoff home run, but the center fielder still found a way to play a pivotal role in the 10-8 win in unique fashion.
"Most of my at-bats, the third baseman and first baseman are playing in, so any time I get a hard bounce like that to a corner, it's got a good shot of getting by them," Mangum said.
Gordon does it again
Junior relief pitcher Cole Gordon has three saves to his name this season and four in his career, but his best high-leverage works has all come in the last week and avoided the statistical parameters of a save.
Less than a week after throwing six innings of strong relief to keep MSU's season alive in the Tallahassee Regional, Gordon was the steadying force Friday, throwing 3 1/3 scoreless innings. In allowing just one walk and one hit, he was the only Bulldog pitcher with a walks and hits allowed per inning (WHIP) below 1.000, holding the Commodores to a WHIP of 0.600.
"He gave us a chance to get our legs back under us a little bit and really got the momentum back in our dugout," MSU interim coach Gary Henderson said.
Gordon entered the game with high stakes, taking over as Vanderbilt's go-ahead run was on second in a half-inning that had already seen five runs cross. Gordon forced a groundout to get out of that jam and worked out of another one in the sixth before retiring the seventh and eighth in order.
"I don't think there was a lot of pressure: if you've watched a lot of our team's games, you know our offense is never going to quit," Gordon said. "I don't know if it was pressure as much as confidence in my teammates."
Vanderbilt outfielder Pat DeMarco rounded second base in the top of the ninth well aware that he was representing the tying run. Given the ball he hit hugged the curved left field wall just to take a severe bounce away from Rowdey Jordan, third base looked like an inevitability and home plate would be a point of discussion.
Then he stumbled, giving Jordan the time needed to get a ball to third. The stumble somehow made an easy triple yet tough home run into the fourth base his team needed to tie the game.
"I think stumbling on the way to third base actually helped him and made the ball hit him," Corbin said, referencing the ball bouncing away enough to give him time for a run home.
The chaos was just one part of a subpar defensive game from the Bulldogs (36-26), one that made MacNamee's heroics needed in the first place.
"The cliche, it's 100 years old, it's a game of inches," Henderson said. "I thought we had DeMarco out twice, maybe three times on that play: we had him out in outfield, we had him out at third and we had him out at home. Add up all those inches."
The rest of the miscues were concentrated to the fifth inning, when Vanderbilt scored five runs to erase MacNamee's first home run, of the three-run variety, and the two RBI singles that preceded it.
With the bases loaded with no outs, a wild pitch scored one run and catcher Dustin Skelton's attempt to get that runner out at the plate was wild, errant enough to allow a second Commodore runner to score. A passed ball brought in a third run before a Vanderbilt home run tied the game.
It was just the second time MSU has committed four errors in a game this season, with the other being against Texas A&M on April 29.
"We obviously got a little sped up tonight," Henderson said. "It's a little uncharacteristic, or maybe completely uncharacteristic, for us, we're usually relatively calm defensively but we weren't tonight."
Now the Commodores find themselves against the wall, forced to take two straight games to keep their season alive. They have no traditional veteran core to turn to, as the roster contains just one senior and starts multiple freshmen, but Corbin refuses to take that into account.
"It doesn't matter if we're young, throw that away," he said. "We'll come back (Saturday) and play well, that's all."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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