STARKVILLE - The postgame fireworks show had to wait 10 innings, but Mississippi State gave fans cause for celebration with a 6-5 walk-off victory over South Carolina to open SEC play.
It was the Bulldogs' (20-8, 1-0 SEC) third extra-inning win of the year and fourth walk-off victory. Riley Hull was the hero after Paige Cook was intentionally walked to load the bases in a 5-4 ballgame. Hull grounded a ball up the middle to the second baseman, and two runs came home on the play to end the nearly-four-hour contest.
"For me, it was a little personal because my sister played for South Carolina," Hull said. "And then while I was up there, their coach was screaming at their pitcher, 'This is why you're here,' and I was like, 'You know what? This is why I'm here, too.' I just had to fight through for my team."
Hull's two-run single erased the deficit from the top half of the inning. After the Bulldogs tied the ballgame with a Jackie McKenna sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh, the teams went two scoreless frames. The Gamecocks (23-5, 1-3 SEC) used a first-and-third play to take the lead in the 10th, scoring just before the final out of the inning was tagged between first and second.
For State, it was a game of persistence and battling back. The Bulldogs found themselves in a 3-0 hole after the top of the first but hung a three-spot of their own in the third. South Carolina again took the lead in the sixth before MSU answered, leading to the dramatic sixth inning.
"Definitely an exciting game and definitely a fun way to kick off conference play for us," head coach Samantha Ricketts said. "[South Carolina] came out ready and went swinging, and I think we showed we were a little bit nervous. We definitely had a couple of freshmen out there in Josey [Marron] and Reis [Beuerlein], and I think once they both settled in they pitched like we knew they could. It was really good just to see the fight and the grit from the team, and just never going away [and] never being defeated."
MSU now has eight comeback wins on the year, and the Bulldogs have won their SEC home opener in three of their last four tries.
Samantha Ricketts on going back-and-forth with South Carolina... "I think [we] know once they got some outs on the board that we can still compete, especially in the 10th inning when they took the lead. It would've been really easy to pack it up and chalk it up to a loss, but this team has been gritty all year long. Their mantra for the past week has been 'I've got your back.' They've really bought into that, and it was really fun to sit back and see it all come to fruition."
Kenley Hawk on the team's emotions when Paige Cook was intentionally walked... "We were sitting there, and we were all smiles for Riley, like, 'Yes, good - overlook her.' [They] easily decided to walk Paige, but Riley is no one to shy away from."
Bonus Ball - MSU won its third extra-inning game of the season, improving to 3-0 ... MSU also defeated Furman (Feb. 25) in 12 innings and Murray State (Mar. 5) in eight innings ... it was also State's fifth walk-off win of the year.
Fanning Batters - The teams combined for 28 strikeouts ... MSU pitchers entered the game leading the nation with 237 strikeouts this season and added 12 more.
Paige Cook - Drove in a run with a ground out to second ... was intentionally walked to set up the game-winning play.
Macy Graf - Singled and scored in the third ... walked and scored the winning run in the 10th.
Riley Hull - Delivered a walk-off, two-run infield single in the 10th inning ... her infield hit gave MSU 42 infield hits this season.
Kiersten Landers - Collected her 11th infield single of the year ... scored the tying run in the bottom of the seventh.
Chloe Malau'ulu - Tripled, driving in two runs, for the third time this year ... entered the ballgame tied for fourth in the SEC in triples ... also walked.
Jackie McKenna - Delivered a game-tying sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh.
Brylie St. Clair - Beat out her team-leading 14th infield single of the season in the 10th.
Top 1 Jordan Fabian drew a leadoff walk to open the game, then stole second base. Jen Cummings singled to center field and advanced to second base on the throw as Fabian went to third. Riley Blampied doubled to right, scoring both Fabian and Cummings. Zoe Laneaux doubled to deep left field in the next at-bat to score Blampied. South Carolina 3, Mississippi State 0
Bottom 3 Jackie McKenna drew a leadoff walk. With one out, Macy Graf singled over the shortstop's head, pushing McKenna to second. Chloe Malau'ulu tripled past the center fielder, scoring both runners. She came home on Paige Cook's ground out to second base. South Carolina 3, Mississippi State 3
Top 6 Giulia Desiderio led off with a single through the left side before stealing second with one out. Brooke Blankenship then singled into right field to score Desiderio. South Carolina 4, Mississippi State 3
Bottom 7 Kiersten Landers singled to second base to open the inning. Matalasi Faapito drew a pinch-hit walk, and Kat Wallace pinch ran for her. Madisyn Kennedy laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third. McKenna then hit a sacrifice fly to center to score Landers. South Carolina 4, Mississippi State 4
Top 10 With one out, Aaliyah White singled off the pitcher's glove. She then took second on a wild pitch. A ground out to second moved White to third before Jordan Fabian walked. Immediately following the walk, Fabian started towards second. She was able to get in a rundown that bought enough time for White to score from third before she was tagged out. South Carolina 5, Mississippi State 4
Bottom 10 With one out, Brylie St. Clair beat out an infield single to second base. Macy Graf walked before Malau'ulu grounded out to second to move the runners to second and third. Cook was intentionally walked before Riley Hull hit a single up the middle that was fielded by the second baseman behind the bag. Her throw home was not in time as both St. Clair and Graf scored. South Carolina 5, Mississippi State 6
Mississippi State and South Carolina continue the series on Saturday. The game has been moved up to 12:30 p.m. CT and will now be broadcast nationally on SEC Network. Saturday is Native American Heritage Day at Nusz Park, recognizing Aspen Wesley's Choctaw heritage.