On the eve of the NCAA baseball regionals two weeks ago, Larry Buckley, who played baseball at Mississippi State in the early 1970s, was spotted in Starkville wearing an interesting T-shirt. The shirt featured the outline of Nebraska, with a star designating Omaha’s location. Instead of Omaha, however, the star on the map was labeled “Starkville North.”
Since 1950, Omaha has been the home of the College World Series, and getting to Omaha for the eight-team championship tournament is the Holy Grail for college baseball teams across the country.
Mississippi State fans consider Omaha as home away from home, which is becoming less of a brag than a statement of fact.
Monday night, Mississippi State outslugged Notre Dame, 11-7, to earn its 12th trip to Omaha and its third consecutive appearance in the CWS, the longest active streak of consecutive appearances in the championship round of any program.
Even by MSU standards, what has happened over the past eight seasons is remarkable — seven postseason appearances, six regional championships, four super regional championships and four trips to Omaha. In the past five seasons, the Bulldogs have won five regional titles and, of course, the three super regional titles that punched their ticket to the CWS.
Juniors and seniors on this year’s team have reached Omaha every season (the 2020 season was cancelled because of COVID-19).
Players come and go, but at Mississippi State that’s true of coaches, too, which makes what MSU has achieved all the more amazing.
In those five years, four different coaches — John Cohen (now MSU’s athletics director), Andy Cannizaro, Gary Henderson and, for the second time in his two full seasons, Chris Lemonis have taken MSU teams to Omaha.
Some teams rely on a collection of fleeting talent to reach the College World Series. Others reach Omaha because of a coach who has built winners in his own image.
But in light of what has occurred over the past five years, it’s clear that Mississippi State baseball is not a team that wins, but a program that wins.
That’s no disrespect to the players or the coaches. Programs attract excellence, which is clearly what has happened at MSU. Throw in the best facility in college baseball and a fan base second to none (more than 40,000 fans attended the Bulldogs’ three-day Super Regional, a national attendance record), and Bulldog baseball has all the ingredients you associate with a perennial power.
There is now only one goal left unfulfilled. It’s one thing to get to Omaha, yet quite another to win it all. The Bulldogs have come close, finishing as runner-up in 2013 and third on two other occasions.
The Bulldogs have knocked on that door 11 times. Perhaps that door swings open on try No. 12, which begins Sunday when MSU takes on Texas in its first CWS game.
Could this be the year the Bulldogs claim the ultimate prize?
We are about to find out.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.