OMAHA, Neb. — Even Ben Bracewell’s teammates know by now.
When the former Mississippi State standout, now a pitcher for the Triple-A Las Vegas Aviators, watched his old college club fall behind Texas on Saturday in the College World Series, his fellow players — even Florida Gators and Oklahoma Sooners — knew the deficit was only temporary.
“They’ll probably come back in the eighth and tie it up or take the lead,” they told Bracewell.
It was the fifth, as it turned out, as Mississippi State evened the score and the ninth when a walk-off single gave the Bulldogs a 4-3, booking their ticket to the CWS finals for the second time in school history.
The first occasion, of course, was 2013. Bracewell, then a senior reliever, was on that team.
And he sees plenty of similarities between the two — with one key difference. The previous Bulldogs squad to make it this far lost, dropping both games in the best-of-three final to UCLA. Bracewell thinks this year’s squad can go out on top with the first team national title in Mississippi State history.
“They’ve done everything that they need to do to take one more step beyond what we did,” Bracewell said.
That includes comeback after comeback as the Bulldogs won three of their first four CWS contests. They trailed Virginia 2-0 on Tuesday, fell behind 5-2 to Texas on Friday and got down early again to the Longhorns on Saturday. Mississippi State erased every deficit, though the Bulldogs dropped Friday’s game on a late three-run home run.
So Bracewell (and, by now, the rest of the Aviators) know Mississippi State is never out of a game. It’s the same feeling the pitcher got in 2013, when his team went 3-0 in bracket play, beating Oregon State twice and also defeating Indiana.
“No matter what the situation is, in your gut you just kind of know that you’re going to get something stirred up — that we’re going to have a chance to win this game somehow,” Bracewell said. “These guys seem to do it. They seem to pull it off every time.”
Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis was in the same four-team bracket as Bracewell’s 2013 team as an assistant at Louisville. The Cardinals lost two straight games and never faced the Bulldogs, but Lemonis remembers MSU’s star power. Their roster included current major leaguers Brandon Woodruff, Adam Frazier, Hunter Renfroe, Kendall Graveman and Jonathan Holder.
“If you look up, you probably could say that’s one of, if not the best team here, (with) as far as they went,” Lemonis said.
He pointed to the Bulldogs’ Super Regional win on the road at Virginia that season as an example of the resilience Mississippi State teams have typically displayed. Then he pointed back to his own MSU squad this year.
“We’ve been fighting all year long,” he said. “It’s never been easy for us, even with all the success we’ve had. It’s always a grind.”
Still, Lemonis made sure to point out the 2021 Bulldogs are their own team — and a darn good one. They didn’t drop a game in NCAA Regional play, beat Notre Dame twice in three games in Super Regionals and have lost just once in Omaha.
With Rowdey Jordan and Tanner Allen in the outfield, Will Bednar and Landon Sims on the mound and a strong supporting cast, the Bulldogs seem to have everything they need to break the title drought.
“They have every guy in the room they need to get it done,” Bracewell said.
Doing so would complete a turnaround that started with Bracewell and his talented teammates. His freshman season in 2010, the Bulldogs went just 6-24 in Southeastern Conference play, missing out on the SEC and NCAA tournaments. Now, the program is a yearly fixture in the College World Series, making its nation-leading third consecutive trip. All that’s missing, Bracewell feels, is a title.
“The university deserves it,” he said. “It’s long overdue, honestly.”
And even though his team never got the chance to bring that championship back to Starkville, Bracewell would be more than happy to see the 2021 Bulldogs achieve that goal instead.
“As bad as I wish I could say that we were the first ones to do it, I really, really hope that this team is the first one to do it,” he said.
College World Series final, Game 1 (best of three)
■ WHO: No. 7 Mississippi State (48-17) vs. No. 4 Vanderbilt (48-16)
■ WHEN: 6 p.m.
■ WHERE: TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Neb.
■ HOW TO WATCH: ESPN2
■ HOW TO LISTEN: 100.9 FM
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.