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Home » ‘If you win, you’ll be gods’: Mississippi State ends a 126-year title drought

‘If you win, you’ll be gods’: Mississippi State ends a 126-year title drought

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OMAHA, Neb. — They lost a no-hitter in the eighth inning. Nobody cared.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs had been participating in team sports for 126 years and had never won a national championship. But they were five outs away in the College World Series.

About 1% of the state of Mississippi had made the long journey to Omaha to will the Bulldogs to victory, or at least chase away ghosts. There was Dallas Cowboys‘ quarterback Dak Prescott in a white MSU polo and backwards cap, screaming like a college student, seven years removed from the fall in which he led a MSU football team that was ranked No. 1 for a few weeks. There was four-time MLB All-Star Rafael Palmeiro, part of one of the best college baseball teams to never win a national championship, recording the moment on his phone.

Palmeiro recently pulled a few players aside, and broke it down simply: “If you win, you’ll be gods.”

The Bulldogs finally broke through Wednesday night, riding a combined one-hitter from Will Bednar and Landon Sims to beat Vanderbilt 9-0 for the school’s first national title.

Their chances for history looked bleak just two days prior, when Mississippi State lost 8-2 to the defending national champions on the opening night of the best-of-three championship series. But the Bulldogs stormed back to win their next two games by a combined score of 22-2.

“You lose the first game of the series,” coach Chris Lemonis said, “and you’re sitting there, and you know how bad our community, our school, our program wants this trophy.

“When you’re going to do something legendary for the first time, it was going to have to be tough.”

The game was supposed to be a pitchers’ duel between Bednar and Vanderbilt flamethrower Kumar Rocker, a projected top pick in the MLB draft. But Rocker never got into a groove, and he was chased in the fifth inning after 92 pitches and five runs.

No one knew what Bednar had left in him, or if he’d pitch at all. He was working on three days’ rest and got off to a bumpy start, walking three of his first five batters. But the sophomore righty, who struck out 15 in his CWS debut last week, settled in and retired 15 straight.

He was on the verge of being pulled after five innings, but insisted that he still felt good. Bednar was sitting at 90 pitches after the sixth, and believed he could go longer. But the Bulldogs’ offense took the issue out of his hands when Logan Tanner and Kellum Clark belted homers, giving Mississippi State a nine-run cushion.

Sims, who came into Wednesday night with two saves and a win in the CWS, proceeded to retire the Commodores in order, striking out two. After getting a flyout in the eighth, he worked Carter Young to a 3-2 count, and threw a pitch below his knees. But Young chased it and smacked it into center field.

“To be honest with you, the last thing I was worried about was giving up a hit right there,” Sims said. “I just wanted to come in there throw strikes. If they got a hit, they got a hit.”

Bednar is good friends with Sims, and when it was over Wednesday night, he joked that he would probably “bust his chops tomorrow” about the no-hitter that never was. (There has never been a combined no-hitter in the CWS). But when the hit fell, Bednar cheered for Sims and yelled encouragement from the dugout.

“I really couldn’t care less about that right now,” Bednar said. “I’m on cloud nine.”



After pitching six no-hit innings in Mississippi State’s 9-0 win over Vanderbilt to clinch the College World Series title, Will Bednar is all smiles.

A couple dozen maroon-clad fans charged the field, and the players ran in a circle around the stadium, high-fiving their supporters. The Bulldogs knew what the championship meant to so many people. In Drew, Mississippi, it was a reprieve for farmers like Stafford Shurden, who were re-planting their crops this week after a devastating flood.

Though he lives closer to Oxford, he identifies more with Mississippi State. And after MSU made it to the CWS championship game in 2013, only to lose to UCLA, Shurden promised himself he’d make it Omaha someday to see them play. Mother Nature had other plans, he said. Shurden hoped to hop off his tractor by early evening to watch the game.

“We’re underdogs in every way,” he said. “Look at our team. They’re just a bunch of rag tags, and you’ve gotta love that about them. They’re just out there having fun.”

The Bulldogs were playing for all the people who couldn’t be in Omaha. Lemonis lost his mom last fall, and his father couldn’t travel because he’s sick and in the hospital. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, as the crowd roared and decades of futility were melting away, Lemonis finally took everything in.

“I turned to [Kyle Cheesebrough], one of my coaches, who was sitting right beside me,” Lemonis said. “We both lost parents in the last year, and I turned to him and said, ‘Man, I hope they have a good seat tonight.'”

They were playing for all the alumni who never made it this far. Late Wednesday night, Lemonis was reminded of their CWS exit two years ago, when veteran outfielder Jake Mangum broke down in his postgame interview with reporters, sad to leave the program without a title.

“You’re going to bring the first national championship to this baseball program,” Mangum, who’s now in the Mets’ farm system, told Lemonis. “You are. And it’s going to be awesome. I can’t wait to see it.”

They were playing for a fanbase that waited a lifetime to celebrate.

“I’m on top of the world,” outfielder Tanner Allen said. “I couldn’t be more happy for a team, a town, a fan base, the whole state of Mississippi. Except Oxford, of course.”


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