College World Series Final Preview: Mississippi State

Momentous Mississippi State will aim to spoil Vanderbilt’s hopes by securing their first national championship.

Mississippi+State++pitcher+Stone+Simmons+faces+Vanderbilt+on+April+24%2C+2021.+%28Twitter%2F%40HailStateBB%29

Mississippi State pitcher Stone Simmons faces Vanderbilt on April 24, 2021. (Twitter/@HailStateBB)

Andrew Wilf, Assistant Sports Editor

On Saturday night, the Vanderbilt Commodores were waiting to see who their College World Series opponent would be for nearly three hours with no conclusive answer. The No. 2 Texas Longhorns and the No. 7 Mississippi State Bulldogs exchanged punches all game and found themselves tied at 3 to begin the ninth. 

After the Longhorns ended the top of the inning scoreless, Mississippi State looked to capitalize. The Bulldogs began the bottom of the ninth with a strikeout. The pressure quickly began to mount for the Longhorns as Mississippi State found themselves with one out and a runner on second base. At bat was Tanner Leggett, who hit a line drive over the Longhorn shortstop, allowing pinch runner Brayland Skinnard to score and the Mississippi State Bulldogs to advance to the College World Series for the first time since 2013.

“Best moment of my life for sure,” Leggett said after the game. “Some people get nervous about that situation, but I pray for that situation.”

Mississippi State will now gear up to face SEC rival and defending College World Series champion Vanderbilt in a best-of-three series beginning June 28.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs’ storybook ending against Texas was sweet, but the Bulldogs have a job unfinished. 

To win there [CWS], you have to earn it,” Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis said. “We have to go against the best and that’s the way we want it.” 

The Long Haul to Omaha

The Mississippi State Bulldogs have made the trip to Omaha, Nebraska, seem routine, as the Bulldogs have made the College World Series three consecutive times. The Bulldogs have been dominant all season, obtaining a remarkable 48-17 record. Mississippi State made it to Omaha by beating Notre Dame in the Starkville Super Regional. After beating Texas and Virginia, Mississippi State faced Texas once again to decide who would face Vanderbilt in the College World Series Final. After losing to the Longhorns 8-5, the Bulldogs rallied and beat Texas 4-3 in thrilling fashion to march into the final series. 

Pitching and the Stout Defense of the Bulldogs

Although Vanderbilt has the two most touted pitching prospects in all of baseball in Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker, the Mississippi State Bulldogs also have a lethal dynamic duo in starter Will Bednar and closer Landon Sims. In the first round of the College World Series, Bednar and Sims combined for a College World Series record-breaking 21 strikeouts. Bednar tallied 15 strikeouts in six innings while Sims finished the day off with six strikeouts. Vanderbilt hitters will have their work cut out for them. Over the past week, Sims has thrown 51 pitches and is fresh for the final.

“Their pitching staff is like ours,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. “They have quality starters. They have quality arms out of the bullpen.”

The Bulldogs plan to give left-handed junior Christian Macleod the nod to start on Monday. In the regular season, Macleod had a 12-5 record with a 4.24 ERA. 

The Bulldogs thrive off of a deep bullpen. Reliever Preston Johnson’s success has been crucial in making it to the College World Series final. Johnson brought the Bulldogs to Omaha by closing out Notre Dame’s hopes in the Starkville Super Regional. Johnson has a 4.18 ERA.

The Mississippi State bullpen is also powered by the dominance of Brandon Smith and Houston Harding. Smith has a 4-4 record this season and boasts a 4.34 ERA. Harding is known as the change-of-speed specialist and holds a 7-2 record with a 3.10 ERA.

Slugging in Nebraska

In addition to having a stout starting pitcher in Bednar and an excellent closer in Sims, the Bulldogs have an extraordinary slugger. Tanner Allen, the outfielder, came into Omaha with a batting average of .392. Allen’s strength has been integral to the team’s success, especially in the top of the eighth inning against Virginia when he hit a home run to right field.

“Mississippi State doesn’t like to strike out very much,” Kumar Rocker said.

The Mississippi State bats seem to always be swinging, and out of their nine most utilized starters, each player averages a maximum of one strikeout each game.

The fierce offensive play of the Bulldogs is due to the excellent hitting all around, especially the hitting of Allen and Rowdey Jordan, the two starters that hold a batting average above .300.

The Bulldogs are not in Omaha only because of the batting average of these two stars, but also the way the team is capitalizing with runners in scoring position. Luke Hancock and Kamren James both have 59 RBIs this season in nearly 65 games played. 

The Mississippi State offense will have its capable hands full with the dominant starting pitching of the Commodores.

The matchup between the high-flying Bulldog offense and Vanderbilt’s disruptive pitching will be one to watch as the battle of SEC rivals begins on Monday, June 28.