The rest of the way home for the game-winning run, in fact. A Georgia throwing error off DH Jake Vickerson's bunt allowed Collins to score all the way from second base with Mississippi State's margin of 5-4 victory in the SEC Tournament. The win took ten innings to complete, after the other Bulldogs had rallied for a pair in the ninth to tie things up with two outs.
But the #5-seeded MSU Bulldogs shook off their frustrations in time to take advantage of Georgia mistakes in the tenth and live to play at least two more days at Hoover. Mississippi State (36-20) will face #4-seed South Carolina in Wednesday's late game as double-elimination play begins. Georgia's season ended at 26-29-1.
"It's just another challenge, I guess!" C Collins said. "And we don't mind it at all."
The only Bulldog who might have minded would be LHP Lucas Laster. The junior was not only making his first SEC Tournament appearance, he started it. Darned nearly finished it, too, working into the ninth inning with a 4-2 lead before exiting with one on and one out. As things played out Laster didn't get a decision, but "As long as we're winning games I'm not too mad about it."
"The real story of the ball game, besides our uniforms of course, was Lucas Laster," Coach John Cohen said. "He went out and did exactly what we wanted him to do. We didn't help him as much offensively as we probably should have, but I thought he competed phenomenal."
Laster's linescore read 8.1 innings with three runs off five hits, two walks, and an impressive eight strikeouts. "I was able to locate the fastball, both sides of the late. I was able to throw some breaking balls in the zone and in the dirt." And, able to shake off his one rough inning.
That was in the Georgia third, and right after Mississippi State had taken a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second off a sacrifice fly ball from LF Cody Brown scoring SS Seth Heck. Laster was tagged for a leadoff single by Sean McLaughlin, and a bunt put the tying runner on second base. Laster gave him a free pass to third by shuffling a foot when looking the runner back, with a balk called. State tried to set up a double-play with a walk, but Conor Welton foiled it with a RBI-single through center.
Not only did Welton tie the game but when a throw towards third was dropped before a potential tag, the batter slipped around to second base. This meant no double-play on another bouncer, by Hunter Cole, scoring Stephen Wrenn from third for the 2-1 lead.
Laster wasn't fazed though. "I felt I got a little too cute with them in that one inning, I needed to stick to my gameplan. Coach (Butch) Thompson and Gavin came up to me and we had a little conversation about it." After which Laster retired nine-straight before a sixth-inning single, then another six Georgians in a row.
"We just kept the same thing going," Collins said. "He told me in the dugout I don't want to change a thing, I want to keep mixing speeds. They haven't hit me hard all night."
But State wasn't hitting Georgia starter Dylan Cole hard enough, as the righthander worked into the sixth with the 2-1 lead. But after getting ahead of 2B Brett Pirtle, the pitcher lost control and plunked him. Then he drilled Heck as well for two on and no outs. Collins executed his own bunt for a pair in scoring spots as Georgia changed pitchers. While lefty Jarrett Brown warmed up, righthanded hitter Wes Rea was swinging on-deck as a pinch-batter.
He was swinging immediately at the plate too, as Brown fed him a fastball that Rea drove into right-center for a two-run double. "Wes just stepped up when we absolutely needed him to," Cohen said. And this time the Dogs didn't settle for one scoring play. Rea was replaced by speedster Derrick Armstrong on second base before Vickerson joined him on paths via walking.
With both runners going RF Demarcus Henderson put the ball in play. Vickerson was forced at second though his hard slide put the shortstop off balance. Which mattered because Armstrong hadn't slowed at all. He raced home and slide around a throw up the third base line for the two-run margin.
Laster made it hold up into the ninth when Nelson Ward led off with a base hit. The pitcher still stayed and produced a bouncer to shortstop for an out of Ward; the throw to first was also in time only to be dropped by 1B Alex Detz, who'd had trouble reading the relay. "I feel so bad for Detzy," Cohen said. "Once that happened the game is going to punish you and that's exactly what happened."
What also happened was a pitching change; Cohen explained that after the emotional up-and-down of a failed twin-killing Laster had to be lifted. "And he was at 117 pitches," the coach added. Plus, ace closer Jonathan Holder had been warming for a few innings already. Holder entered for a three-pitch strikeout and after a wild pitch advanced Heath Holder to second he threw on 2-2 what everyone saw as a strike…except the umpire.
Given another chance Skyler Webber pulled a base hit through the right side for runners on corners. Then it was McLaughlin punching a base hit through the same side for a 4-3 score. Pinch-batter Jess Posey tied it all up by fighting off an inside pitch that barely cleared the infield. Fortunately Henderson came up fast and McLaughlin was run down short of third base to keep it 4-4.
State wasted a two-out Heck single in the ninth but Collins opened the tenth with a base hit. Armstrong didn't get to bunt, he was drilled hard. With the pair on and no outs Georgia knew Vickerson was bunting, and still miss-played it as the throw was way wide of first base. Third base coach Nick Mingione hustled Collins off the bag and on home to end it in ten.
"It's whoever flinches first. And we won the game."
Holder (6-1) got the win despite the run on three hits with a strikeout. State's winning score came at the expense of third UG pitcher Jared Cheek (5-6) on three hits. MSU out-hit the other Dogs ten to eight with Pirtle and Heck collecting a pair of safeties, and Rea delivering the crucial two-RBI shot in a true pinch.
But the unofficial winner was still Laster, who may well have worked himself into a job when Mississippi State sets a rotation for NCAA Regional pitching. For tonight, this was enough. "I just wanted to give my team a chance to win, go as long as I could so I could save some of the bullpen for the rest of the tournament."