STARKVILLE — Three wins, one weather-induced postponement, one 18-minute rain delay and lots of Mississippi State runs later, those lousy two days at the Southeastern Conference tournament last month already seem to be ancient history.
The Bulldogs, the No. 7 seed nationally, won their Regional by beating all three teams in the regional once. In the process, MSU secured its fifth straight Super Regional appearance (we aren’t counting an interrupted 2020 season, obviously) and 10th all-time, with a 6-5 victory over Campbell in the Regional final Monday.
“The message all week to our guys was ‘This is where you belong,” MSU coach Chris Lemonis said. “This is where Mississippi State is supposed to be’. It’s all about the players.”
The pitching staff that led the nation in strikeouts per nine innings entering the postseason delivered when needed. Will Bednar threw a workman-like 117 pitches in Friday’s Regional opener against a right-handed dominant Samford lineup that resulted in the conservation of various bullpen arms. Ace Christian MacLeod battled through command issues and found a way to deliver a quality start Saturday while being the beneficiary of MSU’s offense going bonkers and scoring a plethora of runs in Saturday’s 16-4 laugher against VCU. A win which, by the way, ended a 22-game winning streak for the Commodores, the nation’s longest at that time.
Don’t forget about Houston Harding, who rescued Monday starter Jackson Fristoe after the freshman couldn’t find the strike zone and only lasted a third of an inning. Harding struck out a career-high 10 batters and punched out the side in the third inning with the bases loaded and nobody out to preserve a one-run lead. In a game that was decided by one run, that three-batter stretch of brilliance may have preserved the regional for MSU.
“I’m playing my role,” Harding said after his outing Monday. “I just want to help the team win.”
After getting the first two nights off, lights out closer Landon Sims delivered three shutout innings, although the ninth was a little close for comfort after a leadoff double. In a pressure-packed spot protecting a one-run lead with two down and a Campbell runner on third, Sims pumped his fist in celebration after shortstop Lane Forsythe made handling a scolding line drive off a hitter batting .407 look easy en route to securing Sims’ three-out save.
“We really prepared this week for this weekend,” Sims said. “Our pitchers went to work, our hitters went to work, defensively, offensively, in our bullpen sessions.”
Of course, timely hitting played a key part too. Kamren James slugged his way to a Regional MVP, Rowdey Jordan was impossible to get out and Tanner Allen was Tanner Allen en route to scoring 30 runs in three games.
After being outscored 25-3 in two days in Hoover, the Bulldogs are back to playing like an elite program. But their next opponent certainly is also playing like a top team nationally, considering Notre Dame just cakewalked its way through its own regional this weekend.
“We feel like we have one of the hottest teams in the country coming in here,” Lemonis said.
But if the Bulldogs play like they did in their first postseason experience in two years, they’ll be ready.