OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Jordan Westburg hit a grand slam, doubled and drove in seven runs and Mississippi State went on to beat North Carolina 12-2 in the College World Series on Tuesday.
The Bulldogs (39-27) continued their surprise postseason run and, with two wins at the CWS, are off until Friday. They need one more to advance to the best-of-three finals.
Westburg, the freshman who two weeks ago came up with the “Rally Banana” that’s become the Bulldogs’ good-luck charm in the NCAA Tournament, connected on an Austin Bergner breaking pitch. The ball landed in the seats above the left-field bullpen for a 4-1 lead in the second inning.
Bergner (7-3) then retired 16 batters in a row until the start of the eighth inning, when the Bulldogs converted six hits, a walk, a hit batter and two errors into eight runs.
Carolina’s Kyle Datres doubled leading off the game against Konnor Pilkington (3-6) and came home on a sacrifice fly. The Tar Heels (44-19) didn’t score again until the seventh.
The stage was set for Westburg’s slam when Elijah MacNamee singled, Justin Foscue reached on an error and Luke Alexander singled to load the bases. Bergner, who gave up his third home run in eight NCAA Tournament innings, left a 1-2 breaking pitch up, and Westburg crushed it.
When he returned to the dugout, a teammate handed him his Rally Banana.
Westburg came up with the Bulldogs’ alternate mascot during a regional game against Oklahoma on June 3. The Bulldogs were struggling when he went into the tunnel and grabbed a banana. Instead of eating it, he put it on his head in hopes of turning the Bulldogs’ luck. It must have worked. Mississippi State won, Westburg and his banana got some TV time, and the meme took off.
Since then, Westburg has been the curator of the fruit. (No, it’s not the same banana every game.)
He’s put sunscreen and bug spray on it. He’s wrapped one in a towel, as if it were releaxing at a spa. Sometimes Westburg or a teammate puts the banana up to his face like a mustache; other times it’s a faux radar gun.
A couple Mississippi State fans have been dressed up in banana outfits, others wear Rally Banana T-shirts, and the Bulldogs have received best wishes from banana producers Dole and Chiquita.
It’s been an improbable run for the Bulldogs so far. Andy Cannizaro resigned on Feb. 20 for off-field conduct, pitching coach Gary Henderson took over on an interim basis, and the Bulldogs got out to a 14-15 start and lost seven of their first nine Southeastern Conference games.
A sweep of defending national champion Florida in the last regular-season series earned them an NCAA at-large bid, and they’ve won three postseason games in walk-off fashion.
Thanks to Westburg’s grand slam and Carolina’s eighth-inning meltdown, no fantastic finish was needed this time.
ABOUT THAT SLAM
Oregon State’s KJ Harrison hit the previous grand slam at the CWS against LSU exactly one year ago. Mississippi State’s only other slam in 10 CWS appearances was by Bobby Thigpen, against Miami in 1985.
MacNamee, the Mississippi State right fielder, lost track of a short fly ball off the bat of Ashton McGee in the seventh inning. MacNamee ran in too far, realized what he had done and backtracked as the ball fell to the ground. McGee ended up on third with a triple, and that ended Pilkington’s day. McGee scored on reliever Cole Gordon’s wild pitch.
Mississippi State plays Friday against Oregon State or North Carolina. A win Friday or Saturday would send the Bulldogs to the finals starting Monday.
North Carolina plays an elimination game against Oregon State, a team the Tar Heels beat 8-6 on Saturday.
Copyright 2018, The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Feature photo courtesy of UNC