Everything Chris Lemonis said after Mississippi State's dramatic victory over Texas
Mississippi State got a clutch hit from Tanner Leggett in the bottom of the ninth inning to lead the Bulldogs to the College World Series finals with a 4-3 victory over Texas on Saturday night.
The Bulldogs will now face Vanderbilt in a best-of-3 series for the national championship starting Monday.
Here’s everything coach Chris Lemonis said after the game:
CHRIS LEMONIS: Great college baseball game against a great team. We’ve gone four times against Texas this year and each game has been a brawl. You’ve got to tip your cap to those guys. I know they are disappointed, but we have played some unbelievable games with those guys.
Really happy for our kids. Thought we got a great start from Will. Landon Sims did Landon Sims things and then my Juco bandits put it together in the ninth, and Skinner steals that huge base. And so happy for Tanner. He’s been a role guy for us all year, in and out of the lineup. And never easy when you’re that guy because you want to play, and then he gets the hit in the biggest moment, which means he’s still invested, he’s still working, and I couldn’t be happier for the kids.
Q. Your ability to come back and walk things off, what does that say about the resolve of this team and has that become your identity?
CHRIS LEMONIS: It has become our identity. I told the team last night in the rain delay, if you ever thought it was going to be easy, it’s not our way. Seems like we have to be dramatic. We have to fight for it and for us to get here, it was going to be a battle. Our team has been so resilient all year. It’s probably our No. 1 quality is just grit, being able to stay locked in, focused and keep competing.
Q. You’ve mentioned it takes a whole team to have moments like that. Is that a weekly or daily teaching point? You have a guy that comes in as a pinch runner, gets to second base and sets up a game-winning hit; what does it say that your team, the stage doesn’t team too big for them?
CHRIS LEMONIS: It’s been hard to manage everything because we have really good players that aren’t playing. And keeping those guys invested and — even all week as we have been taking batting practice, Tanner’s swing is good, and yes, it is, because he showed it tonight.
But it’s the culture, the chemistry and being bought in, all our guys being locked in together. That’s how you’re able to do some things. We did it the other night against Virginia and we’ve done it all year long and I just told them in the dugout it’s going to take all of us, all of us together to keep winning here.
Q. Did Brayland run on his own?
CHRIS LEMONIS: I just told him he needed a good count to run on. He was green. We tried to make sure we got into a breaking ball count. Unfortunately I think he ran on a 1-1-4 and it was a fastball up and away so probably we didn’t run on the best pitch or the best move and he just out-ran the baseball.
Q. What did you say to Tanner before that at-bat?
CHRIS LEMONIS: I didn’t say anything to him. I’m sure Gaut said something to him, what pitch to look for, but he kind of just — hit a ball hard is all we’ve been talking about. Texas staff has so much power stuff, you’ve got to make sure you stay short and give a chance for contact because there’s a lot of punch-out stuff.
Q. Seems like even without his best stuff he can get people out, but what did you see tonight and how do you evaluate his fatigue level?
CHRIS LEMONIS: He came to the game before us and said this will be kind of like the Super Regional and we agreed, that’s fine. We read him daily. He’s thrown a little bit harder during the year, but it’s still mid-90s with a good slider. He’s just such a competitive kid. He’s just going to give you pitches and make pitches and 3-2 counts. He just fights so much out there, and that’s what you need this time of year is being able to get some guys out there that can pitch in the moment and make pitches. He’s been that guy all year for us.
Q. Tanner had only three at-bats since May 26. How bought in has he been the last month and how hard can it be for a guy when he’s not getting the at-bats obviously that he wants, and how rewarding is it for him to kind of deliver like that?
CHRIS LEMONIS: Well, starting from the last question, you’re so proud as a coach. And about a pitch earlier, right before the pitch came, Gaut turned to me and said this may be the highlight of Tanner’s career in terms of being able to get that big hit. And next thing you know, the ball is in the gap.
He has not had an opportunity to play and we’ve had a set lineup in the postseason and we haven’t played a lot of guys offensively. We had a little defensive switch. But being able to get Josh Hatcher some at-bats who has been playing well has led to Tanner being able to get some time in the lineup. Just so happened his at-bat or his time in the lineup came up tonight at the biggest moment.
His BPs have been really good lately and that’s a really good sign for him.
Q. The last time you were in the finals was 2013; do you see any similarities to that team and this team?
CHRIS LEMONIS: I don’t know. You know, I know the players, and I was here in 2013, we were in the same bracket. I know it was a bunch of tough kids and a lot of them are playing in the big leagues now. If you look up, you probably could say that’s one of, if not the best team here, because as far as they went.
We’re our own team. I’m sure Mississippi State teams have been resilient over time. I think that team had to fight through a Super Regional on the road and fight through a lot of things, and that’s kind of what we’ve had to do. We’ve been fighting all year long. It’s never been easy for us, even with all the success we’ve had, it’s always a grind.
Q. I don’t know if it sunk in yet but you’re about to coach and play for a National Championship. I know these are things that you shoot for, but now that you’ve had a moment to reflect on this College World Series bracket, you’re going to play against somebody that knows you really well. Do you think that’s a detriment or are you excited about that?
CHRIS LEMONIS: We’re excited and excited to be playing. We played well against Vanderbilt at their place earlier in the year. Like I told our guys last night, for Mississippi State to win there, you have to earn it. Playing Vanderbilt, one of the top if not the top program in college baseball the last five years, we have to go against the best and that’s the way we want it.
Q. Do you address your team about what happened with NC State and what’s your reaction?
CHRIS LEMONIS: We can’t control that. For us, it is a conversation. The biggest part for us, and I hate it, because we have such an unbelievable fan base, is we have to take care of ourselves. We want to make sure they are not allowed to sign autographs and they are not allowed to shake hands and they are not allowed to do some of the things you do in a normal year because we are protecting our group as a whole.
Our focus, or at least I tried to make it our focus was about Texas and now our focus is about Vanderbilt.
It sucks. Elliott Avent is a good friend of mine. I have multiple coaches in my dugout who worked and went to NC State and it sucks. Our hearts are broken for them. Everybody feels that way. Nobody wants to win a game out here because of that. Everybody wants to win it between the lines, and I know for our kids, it’s about us jumping in there and playing Vanderbilt now.
Q. You’ve talked earlier about being where your feet are, play in the moment but what is it about this team for good, bad, indifferent, never take one game into the next game?
CHRIS LEMONIS: I think a lot of when people talk about our experience, I think that’s the biggest piece. We have some great leaders on this team, not just — we always talk about Tanner and Rowdey, but we have Spencer Price and some of the older guys that have been around that understand, you’re just going to get punched in the nose in this league and you’re going to punch somebody else in the nose and it doesn’t matter.
We’ve done it enough, and everything that we’ve stressed on is about the next game, playing the next game. We’ll enjoy this game here over the next 12 hours. But when we wake up tomorrow morning, we have to be ready to go and there’s not a lot of time turnaround. We have to be able to be ready to run out there and play good on Monday.
Q. What were the emotions you were feeling when the walk-off was hit, and where does that rank in terms of some of your college baseball memories that you’ve had?
CHRIS LEMONIS: Well, until next week, that’s my favorite. It happened so fast. You’re hugging your coaches and you’re just so proud and happy for your team. They work so hard. These kids, they sacrifice more than you can ever imagine to play at this level and to play on this stage, and to see them celebrate the way they did is awesome.
H/T ASAP Sports.