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Senior Shepherd enjoys a big night

May 21, 2011

MSU senior outfielder Jaron Shepherd, middle, stands with his father Ronald, left, and mother Janda during the pregame ceremony at Dudy Noble Field. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)

By JOEL COLEMAN
sdnsports@bellsouth.net

One day in the future, Jaron Shepherd may take a seat and stare at the framed jersey he, along with the seven other Mississippi State baseball seniors, was presented prior to Friday's game against LSU.
As Shepherd gazes at his No. 15 uniform, odds are the recollection of Friday's events at Dudy Noble Field will bring quite the grin to the Kilgore, Texas native's face.
On the night where Shepherd and his classmates were honored for their contributions to MSU, it was the speedy outfielder who stole the show in the Bulldogs' 6-5, walk-off win.
Yet, don't think for a second Shepherd considers himself the hero. With plenty of contributors, ranging from Eupora native Devin Jones' 5 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to leadoff man C.T. Bradford's two runs scored, Shepherd made it abundantly clear in his postgame comments that this night belonged to everyone in maroon and white.
"I'm proud of our team," said Shepherd. "I'm proud of our seniors, freshmen, every last one of them. They all kept their composure and did pretty good and I'm proud of them all."
Despite Shepherd's humility, it's hard to argue the effect he had on the game's outcome.
With the Bulldogs down 5-0 in the bottom of the third, things looked to be turning as bleak as they had just 24 hours before when LSU pounded the Bulldogs to the tune of 17-1.
That's when Shepherd lit his club's fuse.
Facing LSU starter Kurt McCune, who had just fanned the first two batters of the third, Shepherd stepped to the plate looking for the heater. He got it, connecting for a majestic home run that sailed high over the right field fence.
"That felt good," said Shepherd. "I knew he was going to throw a fastball. He had beat our first two batters with it, so I knew he was still going to challenge me with it. So I just tried to sit on it and wait for my pitch and that's what I got."
Shepherd's homer served as the first hole in LSU's proverbial ship. Suddenly, the Tigers' boat began to take on water.
MSU scored single runs in the fourth, fifth and seventh to pull to within 5-4.
All the while, Jones was delivering arguably the most clutch performance of his career to keep the Bulldogs afloat.
In the top of the ninth with two outs and LSU threatening with runners at first and second, Mississippi State head coach John Cohen finally removed Jones in favor of Taylor Stark.
The first batter to face Stark, LSU's Austin Nola, drove the ball deep into the right field corner.
What off the bat looked to be a double that scored at least one run, turned into the final out of the inning thanks to a running grab by Shepherd, keeping MSU's deficit at just one run.
Back in the MSU dugout, Cohen breathed a sigh of relief.
"That ball he ran down in right field, I'm telling you right now, as an outfielder, that play was a lot harder," said Cohen, recalling his own experiences of chasing down fly balls at Dudy Noble. "He makes those things look easy and it's not."
Again, with a chance to gloat, Shepherd declined.
"I just contribute any way I can," said Shepherd. "Anywhere (Cohen) wants me, I'll contribute."
Contribute he did yet again in the home half of the ninth.
Two batters after fellow senior Cody Freeman tied the game with a run-scoring single to center, Shepherd found himself at the plate with the bases loaded and just one out.
Facing LSU's Matty Ott, Shepherd was down to his final strike before he added yet another unforgettable moment to his unforgettable night.
"(Ott) had a pretty good sinker and I was just trying to stay beneath it," said Shepherd. "But it got down to two strikes so I really just wanted to put something in play and make something happen."
That something turned out to be a low chopper to second that wasn't handled cleanly by LSU second baseman JaCoby Jones.
The play was ruled a hit. It also polished off the MSU win.
Finally, Shepherd had something to brag about. Right?
Not a chance, other than saying he was glad to help push the Bulldogs one step closer to a return to Hoover, Ala. and the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
"I thank God for it," said Shepherd. "It feels good. It means a lot for our team and it's a big confidence booster and I'm proud of it."

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