Gilbert had been 0 for 4 before he came to bat, following six teammates who had kept the line moving. "First of all, I was in awe by everybody that was able to get the job done before me," Gilbert said. "It was incredible, the fact we could get to that point to where I was coming up to the plate, and all the at-bats prior to that I had kind of been a little off, missed some pitches. I kept getting encouragement from my teammates saying, 'Keep going, keep going, don't quit.'
Gilbert ripped a shot past pitcher Tanner Burns and just out of reach of second baseman Ryan Bliss. Dustin 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.
"The bond we have is something that is hard to break," Gilbert said. "So believing in one another, going out there leaving it out there on your team, it pays off in the end. And we work every pitch to the last. You're never out of a ballgame and we all know that, so when we all believe in each other, good things happen."
The No. 6 national seed Bulldogs (52-13) threatened time and again before finally breaking through 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.
"For eight and two-thirds I just thought everybody associated did a nice job," Auburn coach Butch Thompson said. "Then we had a chance to win the baseball game — I don't think there's any doubt about that — and just one play away tonight."
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. "We fought to the last out and just kept competing," first-year MSU coach Chris Lemonis said. "We had a couple opportunities to drive in runs and didn't, but at the very end the grit of our ballclub played out and we were able to put some balls in play."
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 and looked skyward after his off-target throw 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 Thompson brought in Burns to relieve for the first time in 33 career appearances.
"I remember being on defense with Cole pitching, and I had the weirdest feeling about this inning," MacNamee said. "When Jake hit that double, I said, 'Here we go.' When we had that first dude on, even though we were down there was a little confidence from having our leadoff man on base. He's the best leadoff man in the country."
UP NEXT 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.