The No. 6 national seed Bulldogs (52-13) threatened time and again before finally breaking through in the ninth for their sixth straight win in the NCAA Tournament. Auburn (38-27), making its first CWS appearance since 1997, was within an out of wrapping up the win. But third baseman Edouard Julien’s wild throw to first on Dustin Skelton’s grounder allowed Elijah MacNamee to score the tying run.
Tanner Burns (4-4) intentionally walked Rowdey Jordan and Josh Hatcher beat Julien’s throw to first on a soft grounder to load the bases for Gilbert, who had been hitless in four at-bats before coming to the plate.
Gilbert ripped a shot second baseman Ryan Bliss couldn’t get to, Skelton came home from third and the Mississippi State dugout emptied, with players running into right field to mob Gilbert after the Bulldogs’ third walk-off win of the season.
Cole Gordon (5-0) pitched one inning for the win.
Before the ninth, it had otherwise been a mostly frustrating night for the Bulldogs, who stranded 11 runners and had bases loaded in the fifth and sixth innings but came away with only one run.
Julien, who put his hands to his face after his off-target throw to first let in the tying run, had stood to be the Tigers’ hero. He homered and drove in three runs against SEC pitcher of the year Ethan Small.
Small opened with five straight strikeouts before Rankin Woley singled and Julien drove a fastball 418 feet into the top row of the bleachers in right-center for a 2-0 lead. After Small issued three walks in the fourth, Julien singled in another run to make it 3-0.
Small, the Milwaukee Brewers’ first-round draft pick two weeks ago, left after facing two batters in the sixth. He struck out eight to run his nation-leading season total to 176 in 107 innings, and the three earned runs he allowed matched his season high.
Auburn left-handed starter Jack Owen worked five shutout innings and left with no outs and two runners on base in the sixth. The Bulldogs finally broke through when Gunner Halter singled off reliever Elliott Anderson to cut it to 3-1.
Auburn turned to closer Cody Greenhill, who struck out Marshall Gilbert to end the sixth but was pulled after the Bulldogs’ first two batters reached in the seventh.
Richard Fitts came on and induced a double-play ball and got Dustin Skelton to ground to second baseman Ryan Bliss, who was playing right behind the bag on a shift and threw him out at first.
Bliss made another big play during Fitts’ 1-2-3 eighth inning, but Jake Mangum doubled leading off the bottom of the ninth, and coach Butch Thompson brought in Burns to relieve for the first time in 33 career appearances.
Mississippi State plays a Bracket 2 winners’ game Tuesday night against Vanderbilt, which beat Louisville 3-1.
Auburn meets Louisville in an elimination game Tuesday afternoon.