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’ alternative 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 of 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. Coach 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.
Florida eliminates Texas with 6-1 win
Jackson Kowar struck out a career-high 13 in 6 2/3 innings, Jonathan India hit a three-run homer and defending national champion Florida eliminated Texas from the College World Series with a 6-1 win on Tuesday.
Kowar (10-5) held the Longhorns scoreless on five hits, mixing his changeup with a fastball still touching the mid-90s deep into his season-high 121-pitch afternoon.
The Kansas City Royals’ first-round draft pick struck out the side in the third and sixth innings and broke his previous high of 11 Ks he set against TCU in the CWS last year. He became the first pitcher with 13 strikeouts in a CWS game since 2010 and, according to ESPN, the first in 40 years to do it in fewer than seven innings.
India, the No. 5 overall pick by the Cincinnati Reds, singled to make it 1-0 in the first inning and he broke the game open with his three-run homer in the sixth.
Texas starter Blair Henley (6-7) struggled with his control and lasted only 2 2/3 innings, the second-shortest of his 22 career starts. He gave up four hits, walked four and threw a wild pitch.
Florida (48-20) came into the game after a 6-3 loss to Texas Tech in its CWS opener. The Gators had committed 16 errors in their last 11 games and had batted .186 and scored a total of eight runs in their previous three games.
The Gators played error-free against the Longhorns, and their offense had 10 hits.
Kowar didn’t allow a base runner past second until the seventh, when Jake McKenzie singled leading off and ended up at third on Masen Hibbeler’s double with none out. Kowar struck out Tate Shaw and Ryan Reynolds and left to applause from both Florida and Texas fans. Jordan Butler came on and struck out David Hamilton.
Texas (42-23) broke through for a run in the eighth on DJ Petrinsky’s one-out single.