Vanderbilt and Mississippi State meet in a Super Regional this weekend in Nashville. But just how improbable was State’s road to get here?
Statistically, the Bulldogs don’t scare you. The MSU weekend rotation has a combined 12-12 record and the staff ranks near the bottom of the SEC in ERA, hits, walks, and wild pitches.
And the hitters are ho hum as well – at least by the numbers. Eighth in BA, 11th in slugging, 9th in RBI, and dead last in the SEC in on-base percentage. So how did this team even make it in the tournament much less win a regional?
They did it in bunches. When State gets going they can score a lot. The Bulldogs scored 9 or more runs in 15 of their 35 wins this year (43%). Half of those games came since May 1 – showing that the Bulldogs turned it up with the season on the line.
Mississippi State: A Topsy-Turvy Season To Remember
Mississippi State started the season with high hopes. They opened the year in Hattiesburg to face Southern Miss. USM swept the weekend (State scored just 6 runs total) and it became clear that something was up with the program that had made back-to-back Super Regionals. A day later, AD John Cohen pushed head coach Andy Cannizaro into resignation over an affair with an MSU Athletics Department employee.
Former Kentucky head coach (and MSU pitching coach) Gary Henderson took over in a tough spot and vowed to work to keep the season afloat. After sweeping through the Astros College Classic and winning 4/5 the next week, it appeared the season was starting to look up.
But then the SEC season started and disaster struck: swept at home by Vandy and series losses at Mizzou and LSU. The Bulldogs went into April just 2-7 in SEC play and 14-15 overall.
Getting it Going
The first weekend in April was likely the turning point in the season. After a rainout, State split a doubleheader with 3rd ranked Ole Miss on Saturday then won an 11-inning classic on Sunday. MSU managed to get a single win at Auburn and went back home for a must-win series with then-#3 Arkansas.
State won three close games with the Hogs for their first SEC sweep of the year. MSU was now 6-3 in the conference since April Fools. A midweek win over Ole Miss (to secure the Governor’s Cup) gave State four-straight wins over top-five teams.
State went 3-3 vs. the Aggies and Alabama before a trip to Lexington to face Kentucky. The Bulldogs lost the first two games to the Wildcats before erupting for 18 runs to salvage the finale. State was 12-15 in the league and needed a great finish with #1 Florida coming to town.
Fortunately for the Dogs, the fans showed up and the Gators were swept out of town thanks to 31 runs from Bulldog hitters. Since the horrible start, MSU had gone 13-8 in the SEC – the second-best record in the league over that stretch.
Mississippi State traveled to Hoover with some momentum but lost the first-round elimination game to LSU. The Bulldogs got some downtime to rest and recover from the long season. A few days later, the NCAA put the Bulldogs as the #2 seed in the Tallahassee Regional.
State drew OU for their regional opener. After falling behind 5-0, MSU railled to tie it at 5-5 and eventually took a 10-7 lead.
Then disaster struck: OU scored 9 runs in the 7th inning on just 5 singles, a walk, and a couple of errors. OU added 4 more runs in the 9th to make the final 20-10. State fans had good reason to think the season was over.
The next day, MSU faced host Florida State after the Seminoles had lost to Samford. FSU dominated the game before and after a long rain delay and took a 2-0 lead to the bottom of the 9th.
Shockingly, FSU still had their starter Drew Parrish in after 115 pitches. Parrish walked two but still wasn’t lifted. Down to their final out, State’s rightfielder Elijah MacNamee crushed a three-run bomb that hit off the scoreboard in left.
State had walked-off national-seed FSU and extended their season at least for another game. It was, without a doubt, the best finish to a game in the regionals.
The Bulldogs beat Samford 9-8 to reach the finals – Mangum and MacNamee both homered in the 1st – to set up a rematch with the Sooners. MSU would need to win two games to advance.
State set an early tone in game 1 of the finals – a run in the 2nd followed by an eight-run 3rd inning put the game out of reach. Mississippi State beat OU 13-5 to set up a winner-take-all.
OU struck first but State came back and took the lead. Up 4-1 heading to the 9th, MSU tacked on 4 more runs to make the final 8-1. The team that made headlines for their 20-10 loss just 3 days before was now moving onto the Supers.
In the span of 30 days, State went from doubts that they’d even make the SEC Tournament to winning a regional. Now, they head to Nashville looking for the ultimate redemption. The season that started with their coach getting fired could end in a miracle trip to Omaha.