OMAHA — Mississippi State is bringing home the school's first ever national championship in any sport.
The Bulldogs outscored Vanderbilt 9–0 in the deciding game of the College World Series finals, earning the Division I national title. Mississippi State had gone to the College World Series 11 previous times without winning it all. The Bulldogs did it with clean baseball, becoming the first team ever not to commit any errors during their time at the CWS.
MSU coach Chris Lemonis, who took over as head coach in 2019, said it took three seasons of hard work to build the team up to this level.
“When you're going to do something legendary for the first time, it was going to have to be tough,” he said. “And it's pretty surreal right now. But the reason we are champions is we just have a really tough, resilient group. And it's been built over time. It's the accumulation of the last three years.”
Here is a full game-by-game recap of the CWS Finals:
The game was nine innings long, but almost all of the action happened in the first.
The Bulldogs scored first Monday night but the rest of the inning went to Vanderbilt, who put seven runs on the scoreboard. The Commodores won the game, 8–2 .
MSU starter Christian MacLeod didn't last long. The redshirt freshman allowed two hits, two walks and six earned runs in just 2/3 of an inning. Vanderbilt then hit another home run that inning off of Bulldog pitcher Chase Patrick.
Bulldogs right fielder Tanner Allen said their first-mistakes gave Vanderbilt the gas it needed to cross the finish line.
“You can't give them freebies,” Allen said. “ They'll make you pay. We witnessed that firsthand [in the] first inning, man.”
On the mound for Vanderbilt was sophomore pitcher Jack Leiter. He is expected to be one of the first names called in the 2021 MLB draft. The 6'1" 205-pound righthander allowed two runs in six innings, with 63 of his 107 pitches going for strikes.
This is Leiter’s first time at the CWS. For advice on performing in the big game, Leiter has leaned on guidance from his dad, Al Leiter, who pitched 19 seasons in Major Leagues and won two World Series.
“I've learned a lot from my dad," Jack Leiter said. "And he pitched in a lot of big games. And I think that advice has kind of helped along because the main thing in any big game is not making it bigger than it is and remembering that it's the same game you've played since you were little, whether there's 10 people watching or 24,000 like tonight.”
After the game, Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said the Commodores still have their work cut out for them if they want to bring a back-to-back national championship home to Nashville.
Adding to the pressure is the mostly-Mississippi State crowd in attendance.
“We knew this was going to be difficult,” Corbin said. “And it will continue to be difficult. This place is filled with people that aren't wearing gold and black, and we're playing a very good team.”
MSU fans hatched a plan of attack on social media against the well-known “Vandy Whistler" Commodores fan, who does three short whistles between pitches. For the first few innings, the MSU fans roared “Let’s Go State!” after he whistled. The Bulldogs' chant died down after the score became lopsided.
“We've played on the road at a lot of tough stadiums. And I think throughout the year that's helped us a lot,” said Vanderbilt third baseman Jayson Gonzalez, who hit a three-run home run during the first inning. “Coming in tonight, like I said, we were trying to enjoy it as much as we can. We knew what the atmosphere was going to be like. We knew what the mood was going to be like.”
In what Corbin called “embarrassing”, MSU defeated Vanderbilt, 13–2, Tuesday in Game 2.
The Commodores coach said the slanted scoreboard was due to Vanderbilt using five true freshman pitchers. This included starter Christian Little, who is 17 years old. Only two of the five players had pitched in a game since May. In total, the pitchers allowed 14 hits and 10 walks.
“It's not fun to play like that,” Corbin said. “But at the same time it's a loss. A loss is a loss is a loss. They're not worth more than the other. So all you're left with is the next game. And everyone would sign up for that.”
Even though MSU was celebrating the win, Lemonis said the team was focused on the possibility of facing ace Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker on Wednesday in Game 3. Rocker was named the 2019 CWS Most Outstanding Player and expected to be high first-round draft pick this year.
“He's probably one of the best to ever play in college baseball,” Lemonis said. “I keep telling our guys it's going to be a tough road. Our road is always going to be the tough one. We'll have to be the best if we want to win a national championship. “
The Bulldogs won the finals by outpitching Vanderbilt, having the first one-hit game at the CWS since 2014.
Redshirt freshman Will Bednar didn’t let Vanderbilt get a hit in the six innings he pitched and was named CWS Most Outstanding Player after the game. Reliever Landon Sims closed it out for MSU, allowing only one hit in the eighth inning when Vanderbilt sophomore Carter Young singled to center field.
This is the third time senior Tanner Allen has been to CWS with the Bulldogs. After the game he spoke about the hurdles MSU overcame this season, such as losing in the SEC tournament to Florida, 13–1, in seven innings and then to Tennessee, 12–2, in eight innings. Both games ended early because of the mercy rule.
“This team overcame everything, man,” he said. “From getting swept at home in front of 10,000 versus Arkansas to Missouri coming in and taking a series from us and then getting embarrassed at the SEC Tournament, we just kept playing and kept playing and playing. You blink an eye and we're national champions. God is so good.”
Allen, who is from Theodore, Ala., said that almost the whole state of Mississippi is celebrating, alluding to a longtime rivalry between Ole Miss and MSU.
“I couldn't be more happy for a team, a town, a fan base, the whole state of Mississippi," Allen said. "Except Oxford, of course."
Leading up to the finals there was a lot of hype surrounding Rocker being a hard-to-overcome pitcher. However at Wednesday’s game, Rocker’s performance was underwhelming. He allowed five runs (four earned) and two walks in the 4 1/3 innings he pitched.
After the final game, Rocker said his only regret was not bringing home a back-to-back national championship for his teammates.
“I personally left it all out there,” he said. “And before the season started, I said to myself that I want these young guys to experience exactly what I experienced. And I came a game short of that.”
Rocker said he is glad the younger Commodores players got a taste of the CWS and that will mean next season they will be fighting harder to come back.
“It just makes them hungrier,” he said.
Although Rocker’s last game for Vanderbilt wasn’t his best, Corbin said it doesn’t diminish all that the ace has accomplished for the Commodores.
“He's just a one-in-a-million kid," Corbin said. "His fibers are so real and so pure. He just loves team. He's connected to competition. He's connected to his teammates in such a way that just [makes him] the ultimate college pitcher, ultimate college teammate and ultimate college baseball player. He'll go down as one of the very best we've had at Vanderbilt.”
Looking back, Lemonis said what he will remember most about this season is his players, especially those that have played their last game for the Bulldogs. This win, and the players, will always be remembered by MSU fans.
"This team won't be together on the field [again]. I'm just glad they'll finish as legends," he said. "When you go to Starkville, Miss., and you're around 20 years from now, they'll be remembered by everybody."