Perhaps Mississippi State head coach Chris Lemonis has a twisted sense of humor.
It was the bottom of the ninth inning on Sunday. Lemonis' No. 5 Mississippi State Bulldogs had just given up two runs in the top half to trail Tulane by a run. MSU had its three-hole hitter, Tanner Allen, coming to the plate with two outs, two in scoring position and the game on the line. Only one problem. Allen was 0-for-4 up to that point.
"We joked in the dugout that I was going to pinch hit for him," Lemonis said. "He had struck out the last three at bats. It was just a joke, there’s no way we’d ever pinch hit for him."
Moments after Lemonis' stand-up comedy act, it was Allen who made sure it was the Bulldogs who indeed got the last laugh. Allen roped a single into left-centerfield. Two runs scored and for the second time in as many days, MSU had a walk-off win over Tulane – this one by a final of 5-4.
Only about 24 hours after Luke Hancock's game-winning grand slam sent Dudy Noble Field into a frenzy, here was Allen setting off a Starkville celebration of his own. In a career full of highlight moments, Allen noted postgame that this one might be his new favorite.
"Man this was probably at the top just because of how my day had been before that at-bat," Allen said. "I preach to the young guys every single day that you’re going to have four or five at-bats in a day. Don’t let one of them dictate how your day goes. Obviously I had a rough day up to that at-bat."
But no one will ever talk about Allen's first-though-eighth innings in which he was 0-for-4 with three punch outs. Instead, the lasting memory will always be of him getting mobbed by his teammates and his jersey being ripped off in the outfield in a jubilant party.
"What a great (at-bat)," Lemonis said of Allen's moment. "He fought off a couple of great breaking balls. The (Tulane pitcher) is throwing in the low 90s. (Allen) got the count in his favor and drove the ball. I’m just so proud of him to be mentally engaged in the game after having some really tough at-bats earlier."
The inspiration for Allen to stay positive was right in front of his nose. Rather, on his hand to be more accurate. Written on Allen's glove, he says, are three words that he looks at all the time – 'It don't matter'. Why?
"Because it doesn’t," Allen said. "The past is the past. It’s about being in the moment. Like we used to say around here, ‘Right here, right now’. That kind of brought me peace in the batter’s box in the last at-bat. Everything that happened before didn’t matter."
What happened before was a series of ups and downs for MSU (5-2). The Bulldogs actually entered the top of the ninth with a 3-2 lead. After Tulane hit a pair of long solo home runs earlier in the game, State had roared back with a three-run sixth that saw Luke Hancock deliver an RBI double and Kamren James put State in front with a two-run homer.
But the Green Wave (3-4) didn't die. With Tulane down to its final out, Luis Aviles cranked a two-run long ball of MSU closer Spencer Price. Just like that, the Bulldogs were down 4-3. They were down, but not deterred. Why would they be only a day removed from their most recent ninth-inning comeback?
"We got punched in the mouth in the top of the ninth," MSU left fielder Drew McGowan said. "But you can't ever count the Dogs out. We're going to punch back."
And it was quite the haymaker State threw. McGowan started the ninth-inning rally with a one-out walk, then stole second. After Rowdey Jordan lined to left field for the inning's second out, Scotty Dubrule walked.
When a wild pitch moved both McGowan and Dubrule into scoring position, the stage was set for Allen. He worked the count full, then the magic happened.
"I got a 3-2 fastball and was finally able to shorten my swing up," Allen recalled. "My swing has been really long lately. I finally got it shortened up and was able to put the ball in the gap and score two runs. I stepped out of the box on (the 3-2 count) and I was like, ‘I’m not going to let him beat me with the fastball right here. I’m just going to sit on the heater. Hopefully if he hangs a breaking ball, I’ll see it too.’ He was able to throw the ball over the plate and I was able to put a good swing on it."
And just like that, the script for both Sunday's game and this weekend's series was flipped. In a three-game set that saw competitive games, high intensity and a little bit of chippiness from both sides, it was the Bulldogs that ultimately got the upper hand. MSU bounced back from a 7-3 Friday loss to win Saturday's and Sunday's affairs with incredible theatrics.
Allen's sweet game-ending swing would've made for quite a Hollywood script all on its own, especially given his day's prior struggles. It also made Lemonis' prior wisecrack a lot more funny than it would've been otherwise.
"It was all about that moment right there," Allen said. "I was able to lock in and get it done."