OMAHA, Neb. — Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis saw the wind blowing out to center field before Sunday’s College World Series opener against No. 2 Texas and laid out the plan to pitching coach Scott Foxhall.
“The best thing to do,” Lemonis said, “is just strike them out.”
Will Bednar and Landon Sims apparently listened, fanning a College World Series-record 21 batters as No. 7 Mississippi State (46-16) held off the Longhorns (47-16) by a 2-1 final score on Sunday night at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska. The Bulldogs advanced to play Virginia at 6 p.m. Tuesday in a winners’ bracket matchup.
Bednar struck out a career-high 15 batters in six-plus innings, shutting out Texas and allowing just one hit in a dominant showing.
“I felt like it was a great performance, probably my best ever, especially on this big of a stage,” he said. “It was really cool.”
And it earned him the gift of a game ball from Lemonis, who pulled his young pitcher aside to remind him of the magnitude of the outing he’d just completed.
“That’s one of the better performances ever here,” Lemonis told the sophomore right-hander.
Bednar buoyed the Bulldogs on what proved to be a tough offensive night against Texas ace right-hander Ty Madden and reliever Pete Hansen. Madden held Mississippi State to just two runs over seven innings, striking out 10 Bulldogs as MSU managed just five hits on the ninth.
But two fourth-inning runs proved to be the difference. Scotty Dubrule put the Bulldogs ahead with a sacrifice fly after a leadoff walk to Kamren James and a Luke Hancock single, and Brad Cumbest dropped an RBI triple just inside the right-field line.
“I mean, when you’ve got someone like Ty going up there, commanding the zone, throwing really hard, two pitches, you just stay in there,” center fielder Rowdey Jordan said. “You keep competing. And that’s what we did tonight. We put up a good inning, got two runs, and it was enough to win the game.”
It was enough — but barely so. Texas center fielder Mike Antico led off the bottom of the ninth with a home run, and back-to-back two-out singles put runners on the corners. But Sims induced a groundout for a critical final out.
It was the tensest moment in a game characterized by hitters walking slowly back to the dugout in shame rather than rounding the bases in celebration. The two teams combined for 31 strikeouts, tying a College World Series record first set in 1962 by Michigan and Santa Clara.
But neither team was ever far from taking control, keeping Lemonis and the Bulldogs on their guard all stressful evening.
“There was never a loose moment in the game to where you feel like, ‘Oh, we had this game,’” Lemonis said. “You’re playing on the edge of your seat the whole game.”
It’s a feeling the Bulldogs have had almost all season. They put the tying run on third against Campbell in their NCAA Regional finale; they went to three games against Notre Dame in Super Regionals.
But each time, it was Landon Sims on the mound; each time, he delivered for the Bulldogs. Sims entered in the seventh after Bednar walked the leadoff hitter and tossed a strike to the next batter before Lemonis could emerge from the dugout to remove him from the game.
“We just felt like at that point in the game, with the middle of the order up, that he was the guy to go to,” Lemonis said of Sims. “And he did a tremendous job.”
The closer struck out the next three Longhorns then fanned the next two to begin a 1-2-3 eighth.
Even after Antico took him deep to right to open the ninth inning, Sims recovered by freezing Mitchell Daly on a 3-2 pitch and getting Zach Zubia to ground out to short. He worked a 2-2 count on Melendez and unleashed a fastball that crossed the plate at the knees.
It was called a ball.
Melendez fouled off three pitches before lining a single over third base. Williams moved him to third with a base hit to right-center. But when Sims threw Douglas Hodo III a 2-0 slider, the Longhorns right fielder could only tap it to second, hitting a spinning ground ball that Scotty Dubrule scooped up and tossed to first base for the final out.
The play completed the Bulldogs’ third straight opening-game win at TD Ameritrade Park — although it was only the first for the pitcher who made it happen.
“I’m still kind of on cloud nine,” Bednar said.
But with the Cavaliers looming ahead in just two days, the right-hander knows he and his team must soon descend from the happy stratosphere and plant their feet once more in the Omaha dirt.
“Still a lot more baseball to play,” Bednar said. “We’re not done yet.”
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.