The School: Mississippi State University.
Location: Starkville, Mississippi. There might be worse places to go to college, but I can’t think of any.
Mascot: Bully the Bulldog, though technically it’s really this guy.
Record: 45-16, 20-10 in the SEC.
How’d they get here? Beat Samford, VCU, and Campbell (in that order) to take the Starkville Regional, then took two of three in the supers against Notre Dame in spite of getting outscored 24-21 by the Irish. In other words, they haven’t been super impressive in getting here.
Best win: Opened the season with an 8-3 win over Texas in Arlington, one of two wins all season for the Bulldogs against fellow CWS participants, and also super relevant since that’s who they’ll open things up with in Omaha. (The other win: a 7-4 win over Vanderbilt on April 24, sandwiched between two losses to the Commodores.)
Most embarrassing loss: Losing two of three to Missouri in your second-to-last weekend series of the season is pretty embarrassing. Going two-and-que in Hoover is really embarrassing. Getting run-ruled in both of your games in Hoover, however, is a level of embarrassment I am not familiar with.
Most terrifying batter: Outfielder Tanner Allen is one of the handful of offensive players in Omaha for whom “terrifying” is a fitting description. Allen’s stat line hearkens back to the days of the old-school aluminum bats that led childhood me to not really take college baseball seriously as a sport for viewing, with a .392 batting average. But he’s not some guy who sacrifices power for a good batting average, with a .634 slugging percentage and 10 home runs on the season. While he’s not supremely talented in terms of the things that MLB teams are looking for in the draft, he’s actually one of the better draft prospects in the College World Series in the hitting side in a CWS that’s mostly devoid of them.
Most terrifying pitcher: Well, this one’s a pretty tough call. Mississippi State has a one-two punch of bona fide draft prospects in Friday starter LHP Christian MacLeod (6-5, 4.24 ERA, 80.2 IP, 113 K, 29 BB) and Saturday starter RHP Will Bednar (7-1, 3.53 ERA, 74 IP, 113 K, 20 BB.) Both are legitimate.
But in terms of “guys who actually give me nightmares,” that’s closer Landon Sims, who only doesn’t appear on MLB.com’s Top 200 draft prospects list because he’s not eligible until next year. The righthander has struck out 85 batters and given up a paltry 25 hits in 46.1 innings of work. If you are losing to Mississippi State going into the ninth inning, you are simply not winning the game. And State coach Chris Lemonis isn’t afraid to use Sims for multiple innings, either, pitching him for four innings in Monday’s clincher against Notre Dame in the supers. That outing was one of just four (out of 21) appearances this season in which the sophomore gave up a run, and all but one of those were multiple-inning outings. (The one exception: giving up four runs in a third of an inning in the disaster against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament.)
Best NCAA Tournament result: They were the runner-up (to UCLA) in 2013. The Bulldogs have made the College World Series eleven times, but they’ve never won it. In fact, they’ve never won a (team) national championship in anything, the lone SEC school to whom this applies.
Should Vanderbilt be scared? Mississippi State is on the opposite side of the bracket, so Vanderbilt wouldn’t see them until the final if they get there. On one level, yes, this is a team capable of beating Vanderbilt, but this mostly strikes me as a typical Mississippi State team — by that, I mean they have a couple of bona fide draft prospects in the weekend rotation, a lights-out closer, and another solid reliever, but in Omaha they’re basically hoping to leverage those guys as much as possible and hope that either they don’t wear down or they catch a break in the form of a 10-2 game where they can throw the guys they really don’t want to throw in Omaha.