The Mississippi State Bulldogs have been to Omaha plenty of times.
But they’ve never been here before.
Tonight, the Bulldogs stand on the cusp of history — one win away from a national championship, the first national title in a team sport in university history
So close you can taste it, as the saying goes.
In 11 previous trips to Omaha and the College World Series, MSU has been close, tantalizing close. In 1985, a team stocked with four players that would go on to become major league all-stars, finished tied for third under the old single-bracket format. In 2013, the Bulldogs made it all the way to the best two-out-of-three finals series, only to fall to UCLA in two games.
That runner-up finish, like the runner-up finishes by MSU’s women’s basketball teams in 2017 and 2018, left both an ache and a hunger that cannot be soothed or satisfied with anything less than the ultimate prize.
Tonight, at a TD Ameritrade Park that will be packed with Bulldog fans, MSU will meet Vanderbilt in a winner-take-all contest.
If you are among those who believe in destiny, you like the omens provided in Tuesday’s game, a game MSU had to win to keep its hopes alive after a deflating 8-2 loss to two-time national champion Vandy in Monday’s game.
In the top of the third inning, with the score tied 1-1, MSU’s All-American outfielder and emotional leader Tanner Allen led off the inning with a routine ground ball to shortstop. It looked like as routine an out as you’ll see.
But when Vandy shortstop Carter Young reached into his glove to retrieve the ball, his hand came away empty. For a moment, Young didn’t know where the ball was. He looked to see if the ball had skipped out of his glove and landed somewhere nearby. Nope. To his dismay, the ball had gotten stuck in the webbing of his glove.
Allen was credited with the worst hit of his career. The ball got stuck and Vandy came unraveled. The next three batters walked. By the end of the inning, State had scored three runs and were off and running, ultimately romping to a 13-2 victory and earning their date with destiny.
If nothing else, the Bulldogs’ dominating performance has changed the complexion of a series where Vandy seemed to hold all the advantages.
There is an old saying in baseball: You’re only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher.
For Vandy, that’s Kumar Rocker, a pitcher MSU coach Chris Lemonis hailed as the best pitcher to ever toe a rubber in a college baseball uniform. Rocker will be among the first players chosen in next week’s major league baseball draft. He’s every bit as good as advertised.
Mississippi State’s starting pitcher tonight, Will Bednar, isn’t exactly a slouch, though. He, too, will be a high pick in the draft. Pitching on three day’s rest — college pitchers usually have a full week between starts — Bednar isn’t likely to go the distance. Behind him is perhaps an even more formidable figure — closer Landon Sims, whose abilities are only surpassed by a will to win that can only be described as fearsome.
If the script holds true, tonight’s game won’t resemble the two blow-outs we’ve seen in the first two games. The combination of Rocker, Bednar and Sims seem certain to ensure a hard-fought dramatic outcome, a game decided by one pitch, one hit, one play in the field.
In MSU baseball’s illustrious history, all the boxes have been checked but one, and it’s the hardest of them all to check.
That’s as it should be. If winning a national championship were easy, anybody could do it and it wouldn’t mean much when you did.
So tonight a moment like no moment a Bulldog player has ever seen is at hand.
Darling Destiny or Bitter Disappointment awaits.
Go Dawgs and Hail State.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.