This is the 123rd year of the Mississippi State baseball program. The Bulldogs have never won the national championship. That will change in the next three days. For close to 30 years, Bulldogs fans have clung to the memory of the 1985 team led by future Major League greats Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, Bobby Thigpen and Jeff Brantley. That team finished 3rd in Omaha and is held in even higher reverence in the hearts of those who root for the Maroon and White.
Now this group of bearded, nutty, fun-loving Bulldogs has ascended to heights never yet experienced in the MSU program. Starting Monday night the Bulldogs will meet UCLA in the best of 3 national championship series with the chance to ascend even higher.
If anybody thinks Mississippi State is just happy to be in the finals, think again. As shortstop Adam Frazier told me the other day, “we haven’t won anything yet.” Right fielder and MLB Draft first round pick Hunter Renfroe echoed those sentiments telling reporters the Bulldogs game to Omaha with the plan to win the whole thing.
Coach John Cohen says don’t let all the crazy sideshow stuff fool you, this is a mature team that believes it’s on a mission and wants it all (as in championship). But if you haven’t seen the Bulldogs’ Bench Mobb YouTube video, I do recommend it. It’s pretty fun stuff.
The Bruins are in the finals despite a .182 team batting average in three College World Series games. UCLA managed just eight runs on 16 hits and struck-out 23 times in victories over LSU, N.C. State and North Carolina. They countered that with a pitching staff that allowed only three earned runs in 27 innings of work.
Cohen says the Bruins might be the most efficient team in the nation in scoring a runner from first base. When UCLA gets a man on base, you can count on a bunt to follow. Pitching Coach Butch Thompson says the Bruins will put a lot of pressure on a pitching staff and defense because they take balls, swing at strikes and they’re not afraid to bunt with two strikes.
By contrast to the Bruins, the Bulldogs are an offensive juggernaut, batting .297 during the CWS, scoring 14 runs on 30 hits with only nine strikeouts over their three-game run. Plus the pitching staff can hold its own in a bragging contest with UCLA, having surrendered only seven earned runs themselves.
The key in the series really won’t be much different than any other series I’ve watched this season. With these new bats, it is so important to get an early lead. A three-run lead has become an almost insurmountable deficit and a crooked number lead after the sixth inning is going to be hard to overcome for either one of these teams. The Bulldogs are 32-5 when they score first, 19-13 when they don’t.
That said Mississippi State has shown the ability that if they can keep it close, they can win it late. Twice in this CWS the Bulldogs have come-up with big hits in the eighth to beat Oregon State and then Indiana. Mississippi State is 15-3 in one-run games and has won 19 games in which they either trailed or were tied with their opponent after six innings. Conversely, the Dogs are 41-1 when leading after six innings.
The Bulldogs have not lost two games in a row (or two in a three-game stretch) since dropping the first two games of their series at Ole Miss more than six weeks ago. Since that time, Mississippi State has gone 15-3.
To me the Bulldogs have the edge. They can match the Bruins pitching and defense and I think they are a better offensive club. That’s why I like the Bulldogs to win the national championship in three games.