June 12, 2018 10:44:28 PM
Brett Hudson - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Gary Henderson doesn't project any regional bias to play out in the College World Series.
For years, West Coast college baseball teams have come with the reputation of running, teams that go for stolen bases and use the sacrifice bunt more than many. Mississippi State may be up against two West Coast teams in its half of the bracket in Omaha, Nebraska, but Henderson doesn't anticipate their regional alignments impacting the games. MSU meets Washington 7 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.
"I think 20, 25 years ago it was big ball here in the (Southeastern Conference) and small ball out West, but there's a tremendous amount of familiarity at this point, there's no secrets," MSU's interim coach said. "Everybody's on TV and you can get to know who you're playing pretty quick. I wouldn't characterize them as being any different from a really good team you would play from any other league.
"I know (Washington coach) Lindsay (Meggs) well, a lot of respect for Lindsey and the Huskies for sure. They'll be a well-coached team with a lot of really good players."
The other teams in MSU's side of the bracket include Oregon State and North Carolina.
The Bulldogs and Huskies haven't met in baseball since 1998, when MSU won in the Central Regional; the two have met five times total, MSU winning four of them. Both of MSU's games against Oregon State in program history came in the 2013 College World Series, where MSU beat the Beavers 5-4 and 4-1 to get to the championship series. MSU is 0-1 against North Carolina in the College World Series, losing to the Tar Heels in 2007, and 1-6 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. MSU also had a sour NCAA tournament meeting with the Tar Heels in 2003, when they beat MSU twice to win the 2003 Starkville Regional.
Henderson said the team will hold its second 11 a.m. practice today will leave for Omaha after that workout. The Bulldogs will practice at Creighton University Thursday morning before the 50-minute batting practice period at TD Ameritrade Park scheduled by the NCAA on Friday.
Henderson doesn't anticipate any of that travel being as fun as the bus ride away from Vanderbilt after Sunday's game, a raucous ride he hopes got enough of the celebration over with to focus on Washington.
"I think we're enjoying it as much as you're supposed to. There's a cap on that," Henderson said. "We'll get to practice (Tuesday) and make sure our mind-set is where it needs to be as we move on with the week."
Henderson is pro banana
Henderson couldn't help but laugh at the question.
"Coach Henderson's opinion of the rally banana," he said to a chorus of laughter from reporters.
"I'm glad that the kids are having a good time. I want them to like being in the dugout. The fans have adopted it, they love it and I'm all for it.
"Anybody who's been with us knows when something's funny, you laugh. That's a staple of every program I've been involved in. You have to have a sense of humor if you're going to play baseball and be in that dugout."
With that, Henderson gave his stamp of approval to the craze taking over the MSU fan base.
Since freshman Jordan Westburg used a banana as a prop in the dugout during the Tallahassee Regional, the so-called rally banana has become a phenomenon in the team and out. Denver McQuary's younger brother's baseball team had rally bananas with them in their recent tournament; MSU's marketing department had toy bananas with the baseball logo printed on them made and passed around at an alumni get-together; some fans brought large inflatable bananas with them to the Nashville Super Regional.
Cole Gordon was pitching when Westburg's actions with the banana, captured by the television crew broadcasting the game, hit the masses and skyrocketed to fame. He didn't get to see the movement at its start, but he has enjoyed watching Westburg's hijinks with it since, such as putting sunscreen on the banana or wrapping it in a towel after a fabricated spa day.
Eight players have filled the designated hitter role for MSU this season; three have done so in the eight games of the NCAA tournament so far. At the moment, Westburg is leading the pack.
Westburg was the designated hitter for all three games of the Nashville Super Regional, going 3-for-12 with a double and a RBI. He has gotten a hit in four of the five games he has started since recovering from his hamstring injury.
"I feel like that stuff changes all the time, but at this point we're pretty comfortable with Jordan there," Henderson said. "You look at the matchup, you look at who's hot, you look at what the game might ask you to do and you try to make the best decision."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson