After a series of lineup shuffles so crazy that the coaches and umpires needed to consult more than once just to make sure they were all on the same page, it eventually came down to Matthew Britton. It came down to one of the least likely heroes on the Mississippi State bench. In baseball, it always does.
Britton was batting .149 when he stepped to the plate in the tenth inning, the game between the Bulldogs and LSU tied 3-3 with a runner on second and one out. And with a full count, he wrapped a single up the middle, past the glove of a diving Jacoby Jones, and launched Mississippi State into a single-elimination semifinal game against Kentucky.
Of course. The Wildcats and the Bulldogs can't seem to get rid of one another. Mississippi State swept Kentucky in a season-ending series, upending the Wildcats' hopes for at least a share of the SEC regular-season title. But Kentucky got the better of Mississippi State the first time they met in Hoover, knocking the Bulldogs into the losers' bracket and setting up Friday's game.
Even before Britton's heroics, it was quite a game. LSU began it with three unanswered runs in the first and second, and the almost magical Mississippi State run through the end of its season seemed on the edge of running off the rails, with the second loss in as many games ending their upstart bid to win in Hoover. But Jacob Lindgren settled down long enough to give the Bulldogs 4.2 innings, and the bullpen did their part by keeping the Tigers' bats relatively quiet the rest of the way.
But the Bulldogs also weren't hitting much -- going the first seven innings without scoring at all until breaking through in the eighth -- and LSU closer Nick Goody came onto the mound with a 3-1 lead in the ninth inning. A double, two singles, a strikeout and a hit batsman later, and the bases were loaded with one out when Luis Pollorena stepped up, three at-bats to his name. Pollorena hit the sacrifice fly that tied everything up.
So LSU, the regular-season SEC champions, will head home to prepare for what will likely be a national seed and a chance to add one more trophy to the program's storied tradition. In the end, the game probably doesn't change the trajectory of the Tigers' season that much.
For Mississippi State, it's another in an unlikely series of wins that could put the Bulldogs into the running to host a regional. That's a reason to keep winning. And so far, even if it takes a couple of times to get the lineup card right, that's what the Bulldogs have been doing.