Stunner in Gainesville: Nick Vickerson's walkoff homer gives 4-3 win to Mississippi State
As Mississippi State senior second baseman Nick Vickerson and assistant coach Nick Mingione stood watching Florida reliever Steven Rodriguez warm up in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday afternoon, Mingione’s initial thought was to have Vickerson bunt with MSU’s Jarrod Parks on base and the Bulldogs trailing 3-2.
But Vickerson had one request. He wanted one chance to swing at the ball. Mingione and head coach John Cohen agreed It turned out to be a brilliant move.
Vickerson hit a two-run home run, on a first-pitch fastball, to give the Bulldogs a 4-3 win over Florida in the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional.
"Vick really wanted to swing,'' Cohen said. "We were talking about bunting in that last AB and Mingione comes up and says, hey, how do we feel about giving him a strike versus moving him right here and he asked Nick what he wanted to do. He said 'Hey, just give me a strike.' Boy he made the most of that. . . He had a look in his eye like, I definitely want to swing it here. And really 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.''
Florida and Mississippi State will play today at 1 p.m. for the right to advance to the College World Series. Florida defeated MSU 11-1 in Friday's first game.
“I was just trying to hit a ball hard and thankfully it went out of the park,’’ said Vickerson who was 2-for-4 in the game. “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. I didn't see it go out. I heard it hit that back fence and then I just saw everybody come onto the field, so that's when I knew.’’
Florida took a 1-0 lead in the third inning, then senior Josh Adams hit a home run over the right center wall in the fourth for a 2-0 lead.
"I never really had that feeling like we were going to break the game open,'' Adams said. "Mississippi State always battles.''
And they did. The Bulldogs rallied with two runs in the seventh to tie the game. Florida reclaimed the lead in the eighth on a two-out triple by Tyler Thompson.
“Florida is not going to give you anything, you have to beat Florida,’’ Cohen said. . . .”They didn’t give us anything. We had to go out and get it.’’
MSU reliever Caleb Reed went 5.1 innings to earn the win, giving up just four hits and one run.
"We felt like if we were in it at the end maybe somebody would make a big play,'' Reed said.
Florida starting pitcher Karsten Whitson went 6.1 innings, giving up four hits and two runs. After giving up a single in the third, he retired 13 consecutive batters before Vickerson’s single in the seventh inning. Rodriguez replaced Nick Maronde, who had secured two outs in the eighth, but gave up a single to start the ninth. It's a scenario that may have played out differently if the Gators had injured closer Austin Maddox, but UF head coach Kevin O'Sullivan refused to play the what-if game and praised Maronde and Rodriguez.
“It's not those guys, you’ve got to tip your cap to Parks and Vickerson. They put good swings on the bat. It's as simple as that. It's baseball. If we want to get to where we want to get to and if we want to win a national championship it's not going to be easy. We're going to have to go through this. We're going to have to recover from it and we're going to have to give it our best shot tomorrow. We will not let this leak into tomorrow. Our players did not play bad. I think Mississippi State just played a little bit better today. Simple as that.’’