When Tanner Allen was a freshman at Mississippi State in 2018, the Bulldogs made it to Omaha without playing a single postseason game at Dudy Noble Field.
MSU battled back from the brink of an early exit in the Tallahassee Regional, beat Oklahoma twice to advance and took two of three games from Vanderbilt to make the College World Series.
Three years later, Allen is a senior hoping for a third run to TD Ameritrade Park. And this time around, he and the Bulldogs have earned themselves an easier path.
Mississippi State (40-15, 20-10 SEC) received the No. 7 national seed when the NCAA tournament field was announced Monday, meaning the Bulldogs will be hosting games at Dudy Noble Field in both the Regional and Super Regional rounds.
“We just want an opportunity to go on the journey to Omaha,” Allen said. “We got it today, and luckily, the journey to Omaha goes through Starkville. We’re excited to host it.”
That journey begins at 2 p.m. Friday when the Bulldogs open the Starkville Regional against No. 4 seed Samford (35-22, 20-10 Southern Conference) at Dudy Noble Field. No. 2 VCU (37-14, 13-3 Atlantic 10) will square off with No. 3 Campbell (35-16, 28-9 Big South) at 7 p.m. Friday.
But even though none of the Bulldogs’ opponents bring much name recognition into Starkville, none will be a pushover in the double-elimination regional.
“There’s no easy wins this weekend,” Allen said. “We’re going to have to earn every single one of them.”
Still, Mississippi State might have been spared the worst as the Bulldogs prepare for Omaha. MSU managed to hold onto a top-eight national seed, earned a possibly favorable Super Regional matchup should No. 10 Notre Dame come out on top in the South Bend Regional and avoided a potential early-round College World Series matchup with No. 1 Arkansas.
Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis said his team earned it. The Bulldogs finished the regular season with an RPI ranked No. 7 in the country and won 20 games in the Southeastern Conference, which Monday boasted six top-16 national seeds and three of the top four.
“Our kids deserve this,” Lemonis said. “They’ve had a great year. They went on the road. They played great teams. They played a great nonconference schedule. They played a great SEC schedule. And they’re ready to play in front of their own fans.”
Even a late-season fade of sorts couldn’t take away from what the Bulldogs had done all season. Mississippi State dropped two of three games at home to last-place Missouri and was run-ruled in back-to-back games in the SEC tournament last week, but the Dawgs got some help around the country over the weekend. Notre Dame was itself run-ruled in the ACC tournament, while No. 8 Texas Tech exited early from the Big 12 tournament and No. 9 seed Stanford lost the final game of its series to Oregon State.
“We got punched in the mouth in the SEC tournament, but it really doesn’t matter now,” Allen said.
Now, the Bulldogs can turn their attention to the prize they seek. They came up a few games short in 2018 and 2019 before the 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic the day after Mississippi State swept Texas Tech in Biloxi.
Pitcher Christian MacLeod wasn’t even part of that second Omaha run — not on the field, anyway. Redshirting in his freshman season, he bought a ticket to the Bulldogs’ Super Regional against Stanford and sat along the third-base line. Now, as Mississippi State’s regular Friday night starter, MacLeod will be right in the mix.
“Being in the dugout, really getting to experience that postseason feeling, being in the locker room and everything, I’m really excited about it,” he said.
Lemonis said he hasn’t made a decision on how the Bulldogs’ pitching staff will shake out this weekend, but it will be interesting to see how he handles things. Deploying MacLeod or Will Bednar for Game 1 would likely put Mississippi State in the winners’ bracket but would burn one of two reliable starters, while piecing together a bullpen game similar to Wednesday’s contest against Florida in Hoover could come back to bite the Bulldogs should they lose.
For what it’s worth, Lemonis said everyone is available as the regional begins. The Bulldogs threw several pitchers, including Jackson Fristoe and Houston Harding, in an intense Sunday scrimmage after taking Friday and Saturday to relax.
“I’m not sure what we’ll do yet, but all those guys pitched really well yesterday,” Lemonis said.
When Mississippi State faced Samford at Dudy Noble Field on March 16, several MSU pitchers led the Bulldogs to a 10-2 win. Harding earned the start and Brandon Smith got the win in relief as MSU put up a six spot in the sixth inning to take control of the midweek contest.
But that was more than two months ago, and since then, Samford has won 28 of 40 games and came out on top in the SoCon tournament. VCU, the newly crowned A-10 champion, is hot, too; so is Campbell, which finished second to Presbyterian in the Big South. All three teams have won at least 35 games, an impressive benchmark over a long season.
“We’ve got some really good teams coming to our regional, so we’re going to have to be on our A game,” Allen said.
If the Bulldogs can do that, Allen is plenty familiar with how Dudy Noble will be rocking all weekend. For the team’s younger players, it’ll be a sight to behold.
“They’ve never seen anything like they’re going to see this weekend,” he promised. “It’s going to be wild, man.”
Elsewhere in the Magnolia State, Ole Miss earned the No. 12 overall seed, with Southern Miss earning the No. 2 seed in the Oxford Regional.
Alabama earned the No. 3 seed in the Ruston Regional, hosted by Louisiana Tech.
NCAA national seed list
No. 1 Arkansas
No. 2 Texas
No. 3 Tennessee
No. 4 Vanderbilt
No. 5 Arizona
No. 6 TCU
No. 7 Mississippi State
No. 8 Texas Tech
No. 9 Stanford
No. 10 Notre Dame
No. 11 Old Dominion — at South Carolina
No. 12 Ole Miss
No. 13 East Carolina
No. 14 Oregon
No. 15 Florida
No. 16 Louisiana Tech
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.