Feels like the first time: MSU fans, you deserve to soak in every bit of this national title
Why not us?
That’s what Tanner Allen said Mississippi State’s rallying cry was during its run in the College World Series.
For nearly 126 years, those words from the MSU faithful — why not us — fell on deaf ears to the sports gods. Every other SEC school had a national title to its name. Before Wednesday, all but 3 Power 5 programs had won a national title in a team sport. MSU, along with Virginia Tech and Kansas State, shared a dubious distinction.
Why not us? More like “who but us?”
The Diamond Dogs didn’t have it any other way. A sell-out crowd loaded with maroon and white witnessed history in the College World Series.
Finally, it was MSU’s time. Finally, MSU is a national champion.
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) July 1, 2021
That sentence, more than a century in the making, became a matter of “when” and not “if” with each passing inning against Vanderbilt on Wednesday night in Omaha.
It was, in many ways, the perfect night for a fan base as diehard as any in the sport. Bulldog fans didn’t have to watch Kumar Rocker, AKA one of the best big-game pitchers we’ve ever seen in the sport, stymie hitters like he usually does in elimination games. The Vanderbilt star was chased in the 5th inning after MSU jumped out to a 5-0 lead.
There were no tense moments in the late innings. Instead, there were fist pumps and standing ovations.
Well, technically Will Bednar didn’t leave the game to a standing ovation because Landon Sims came in with a clean inning. The MSU star did walk off the mound after 6 no-hit innings — presumably for the final time in an MSU uniform — as a legend. Somehow, he one-upped his all-time performance against Texas.
How loose was Bednar? MSU coach Chris Lemonis said in the mid-game interview that Bednar talked trash to him between innings. On 3 days’ rest, Bednar’s lone blemish of the night was 3 walks. By the time he turned it over to Sims to lock down the final 9 outs, the party was on.
Fitting it was that MSU greats like Dak Prescott and Rafael Palmeiro were at TD Ameritrade Park. Palmeiro’s “Thunder and Lightning” duo with Will Clark got to the College World Series back 1985, but Texas ended that dream. Prescott got MSU to its first No. 1 ranking in school history in 2014, but Alabama (and Ole Miss) ended that dream, too.
And of course, there were other close calls. The 2018-19 MSU women’s basketball team lost in the national championship on a buzzer-beater to Notre Dame. The 2013 MSU baseball team did what “Thunder and Lightning” couldn’t by reaching the CWS Final, but that also ended with a sweep at the hands of UCLA.
Always, a national power was waiting to end MSU’s bid for a national title. Any national title.
The 2021 College World Series easily could’ve been that one more time. Even the most optimistic MSU fans had to wonder if that was in store yet again, especially after the defending national champs got that convincing Game 1 win. MSU is the program that came in ranked No. 3 in “most CWS appearances without a national title.” There had to be some doubt among those tens of thousand fans in Omaha.
But if there was any ever doubt Wednesday night, MSU didn’t show it. The “why not us” team looked more like the defending champs than Vanderbilt. The OmaDawgs took every opportunity presented on the championship stage.
When Rocker threw a potential double play into center field, MSU took advantage and brought home the game’s first run. When Rocker walked the first 2 in the second inning, the Diamond Dogs drove both of those runners in. Runs No. 4 and No. 5 both came on 2-strike pitches in which MSU’s middle-of-the-order hitters drove up the middle for base hits.
The “never say die” DNA that MSU had running through its veins in the postseason wasn’t necessary on Wednesday night. That’s what happens when you play a nearly perfect game.
You could tell what it meant to someone like Lemonis, who was clearly emotional because of the magnitude of the achievement. Never mind the fact that Lemonis had only been in Starkville for 3 years. The first question he was asked in the postgame TV interview was one he knew was coming.
“Coach Lemonis, Mississippi State, national champions. It’s never been said before. How does it sound?”
“It’s awesome. It’s awesome,” Lemonis said. “For all these kids, for all the great players who played here before us and for these fans, it’s unbelievable.”
Lemonis was as in the moment as he could be Wednesday. He even jumped on the dog pile. “I don’t think they were too happy about that,” he said. Lemonis made the comparison to when the Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016. He’s not wrong. The century-long droughts, the undoubtedly loyal fan bases, the celebrations … especially the celebrations.
The words that kept being repeated was “it’s hard to explain what this means for this fan base.” ESPN announcer Kyle Peterson might’ve summed it up best.
“It is such a diehard baseball fan base that has wanted this from the days of Thunder and Lightning and everything all the way through with this Mississippi State team and the history of it,” Peterson said on the broadcast. “Man, they’re gonna party here, they’re gonna party in Starkville, and they will never forget this moment.”
Cheers, MSU fans. You’re no longer a punchline.
You’re a national champ.