Mississippi State fans scattered across the world fell silent on Monday night.
The pitches couldn’t land. The bats fell silent and the vocal fans in Nebraska simply crossed their arms in disbelief.
Was this going to be a repeat of the 2013 College World Series? Would three consecutive seasons of reaching Omaha, Nebraska, come down to two nights like this?
But the 2021 baseball team did not show up to lose two games in the championship series. The starting pitchers and batting lineup did not falter Tuesday and Wednesday nights; they came ready. With their backs against the wall, Mississippi State pushed the series to three games.
It was the defending national champion Vanderbilt whose pitching fell flat and whose bats fell silent during the final two games.
It was the young, spirited sophomore pitcher in a maroon and white jersey who kept fanning batters one after another, punchout after punchout — not the expected future first-round pick in a Vanderbilt uniform.
Cameras panned the audience, showcasing the screams from the verbose Mississippi State fans who did their best to make Omaha into Dudy Noble part two.
When feisty starting pitcher Will Bednar stayed in the dugout after the sixth inning, the Bulldog faithful knew star closer Landon Sims could secure the long-awaited win. For most fans, it felt entirely too early to celebrate a championship a long time coming. But by the seventh inning, Mississippi State fans’ tones started to change.
It was going to happen.
The dreaded curse was going to break. Two outs. Bottom of the ninth and up by nine. Vanderbilt goes for a third baseline bunt. With my phone in my hand, my feet planted in the carpet, I waited patiently for the first-base umpire to pump his arm.
In the world of baseball, they call the College World Series a lot of things. It’s the best of the best. Anything can happen. It truly is the greatest show on dirt.
And for the first time, it’s the place where Mississippi State finally took home the hardware for the Bulldogs themselves, the fans, the students and the athletes who dressed for the games before them.
On a Wednesday night in Starkville, screaming in my living room, I watched the greatest show on dirt.
Maybe it wasn’t the first time Mississippi State was the best team in the nation. But it was the first time we heard “national champions” prelude our faithful, gritty and determined Mississippi State Bulldogs.
The dogpile commenced. Athletes felt on top of the world. Parents cried. For me? In Starkville, I took it all in. I watched the fireworks explode in the distance. I ran in my front yard ringing a cowbell. I screamed at my neighbors. History has been written.
But none of those motions or images mattered when the world slowed down. It was the phone call I made well after the dust had settled on the mound. When it almost felt real, but I still couldn’t believe it, I turned my phone to my ear and heard my dad’s voice: “I never thought it would happen.”
It was done. My father spent a lifetime watching Mississippi State snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. You could say he passed down the curse of loving a small university in a very big way. The dust has settled. The players are on their way home. People will paint murals. Hell, maybe statues. They’ll tell their children and watch replays over and over again.
Maybe the curse is broken. Maybe we’ll be back. But like I told my dad before we both closed our eyes, there’s two things I know for certain.
“I love you, and I love Mississippi State.”