Coming out party: Allen leads hot Bulldogs into Hoover

MSU's Tanner Allen, right
Staff Writer

All Tanner Allen wanted was a sacrifice fly.

Last Thursday night as Mississippi State was on the way to beginning a three-game sweep of No. 1 Florida, Allen stepped to the plate in the eighth inning simply looking to add to MSU’s then-4-3 lead with a deep fly ball.

Turns out, the ball went a little further than Allen was trying for. It sailed over the wall for a two-run homer. Just like that, the Bulldogs were on their way to their incredible weekend that featured three wins over the country’s top team. Allen was on his way to earning the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week Award, which the league handed out on Monday.

Over three games against the Gators, Allen hit .538 (7-for-13) with two home runs, six RBI, a double and five runs scored. It continued a late-season streak for Allen as he’s seen his batting average raise by 30 points up to .302 since the start of play on April 21.

“I think I’m just starting to find a few more barrels,” Allen said of his surge. “(Graduate assistant coach Austin Cousino) tells us all the time that power is finding the barrel. That’s what I’ve been really focusing on.”

Allen’s coming out party couldn’t be coming at a better time for Mississippi State (31-24). Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., the Bulldogs begin play in the SEC Tournament against LSU (33-23).

State begins its run in Hoover, Alabama, flying high. The Bulldogs have been powered recently by bats like Allen’s as MSU enjoys a late-season offensive explosion. Never was that more apparent than against Florida.

The Bulldogs outscored the Gators 31-13 over three days. Three MSU players (Allen, Elijah MacNamee and Jake Mangum) hit at a .500 clip or better for the weekend. On the whole, MSU hit .317 as a team against Florida.

The SEC has taken notice of the rise of the Bulldogs as not only did Allen picked up Freshman of the Week honors on Monday, but he also made the All-Freshman Team for the conference. Mangum was selected first team All-SEC and was placed on the All-SEC Defensive Team.

“Overall it was just a tremendous job of growth and improvement for our kids offensively,” MSU interim head coach Gary Henderson said. “I was really, really impressed and I’m proud of them.

“I think we’re playing some of our best baseball of the year.”

Suddenly, the Bulldogs appear to be doing exactly what all teams strive to do this time of year – getting hot in time for the postseason. MSU was a squad that was just 14-15 overall through 29 games. The Bulldogs finished the regular season winning 17 of their final 26 games though and last weekend illustrated to them that things are absolutely starting to click.

“Bullpen, hitting, starting pitching and all of it, I think we put a lot together (last) weekend,” MSU’s Cole Gordon said. “It’s exciting to see that going into the postseason. Hitters are starting to take better swings and getting big hits in big situations. Pitchers are filling up the zone and throwing strikes.”

The resurgence has all but guaranteed the Bulldogs that they’ll be playing baseball beyond this week in Hoover. There is probably at least a very remote shot that MSU could enter into some type of NCAA Regional-hosting discussion should it make a deep run in Hoover as the RPI sits in the mid-20s. More than likely the NCAA Tournament future of the Bulldogs is somewhere on the road.

That’d surely be fine for MSU though because even that seemed like just a dream a few weeks back.

Not anymore. The postseason has become a reality for the Bulldogs. Yet you won’t find them celebrating. There is still some other business to attend to starting today.

MSU is hopeful that Allen, the rest of the lineup and the pitching staff can make some noise in the SEC Tournament.

“We’re not worried about regionals right now,” Gordon said. “We’re worrying about doing the best we can in Hoover.”