A golden era for baseball in the state of Mississippi? It's here
In a matter of a few short days, we could be talking about an unprecedented year of baseball in the state of Mississippi.
Two Magnolia State teams in Omaha? Yep. That’d be a first.
This is the third time that both Ole Miss and Mississippi State advanced to the Super Regional in the same year (2007, 2019 and 2021). With the canceled 2020 season, it’s essentially the second time in as many chances that both Mississippi programs claimed Regional titles.
That would put us smack dab in the middle of the golden era of Mississippi baseball.
That’ll be true regardless of how many beer showers occur in Tucson, where No. 12 Ole Miss will travel to take on No. 5 Arizona starting Friday night. And it’ll be true regardless of how hot No. 7 MSU stays when it hosts No. 10 Notre Dame in the Carnegie Hall of College Baseball beginning Saturday.
MSU fans might argue that any golden era has to include the “Thunder and Lightning” duo with Rafael Palmeiro and Will Clark, who fueled that memorable run to the College World Series in 1985. But if we’re factoring in Ole Miss’ success, the mid-80s wouldn’t be considered a golden era because the program didn’t make the NCAA Tournament once during that decade.
Or MSU fans might argue that the golden era began a few years ago. The Bulldogs are the only team in America to have made each of the last 5 Super Regionals. Ole Miss, on the other hand, came on a touch later. We’re 2 years removed from Ole Miss coming 1 game from clinching the 2-team bid to Omaha. Granted, that 1 game ended up being a 14-1 loss to Arkansas. It wasn’t exactly 1 pitch away from making history even though MSU pummeled Stanford en route to Omaha.
That was still the closest that both schools came to making the College World Series in the same year. In 2007, MSU made it to Omaha, but Ole Miss was swept in the Super Regional by an Arizona State team that later had to vacate 44 of its 49 wins because of recruiting violations.
Can 2021 be different?
The pieces might already be in place. If Tim Elko casually smashing grand slams on a torn ACL doesn’t have “team of destiny” vibes, I’m not sure what does:
GRAND SLAM. TIM ELKO.
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) June 7, 2021
MSU had plenty of offense of its own. Coming off an early exit in the SEC Tournament, the Diamond Dawgs posted 30 runs in a 3-0 run through their regional in Starkville. Tanner Allen and Regional MVP Kamren James wouldn’t mind some more of that against a Notre Dame pitching staff that ranks No. 23 in ERA. The Bulldogs will have the benefit of some home cooking at Dudy Noble Field, where they won 10 of their last 12 and are 28-8 this season.
Those second-to-none home atmospheres certainly support the “golden era” theory. The numbers reflect that, too.
In a pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Ole Miss and MSU finished No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, in total home attendance (MSU ranked No. 3 in average attendance while Ole Miss was No. 4). The last home SEC series that Ole Miss hosted? It averaged 9,244 fans. It helped that future top-10 picks Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter were on the bump for 2 of those games (Doug Nikhazy outdueled Rocker in the series opener). What about the regional that MSU hosted, you ask? The average attendance was 9,019.
Tune into either Mississippi team playing in Super Regional this weekend. Never mind the fact that one is at a home ballpark and one is thousands of miles west of Mississippi. You’re sure to see a pair of fan bases that are soaking in every bat flip/diving catch/stolen base from this season.
Don’t take that for granted. At places like Florida, where the home attendance is surprisingly lacking for a quality team, you’re reminded that winning doesn’t solve everything (we’re talking pre-South Alabama massacre).
Instead, all the stars come out to watch the Mississippi squads:
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) June 6, 2021
— Ole Miss Football (@OleMissFB) April 24, 2021
There’s also a case to be made that 2013-14 was the golden era for Mississippi baseball.
That 2013 season was MSU’s national runner-up season, which certainly played a part in the buildup to that classic 2014 Ole Miss-MSU showdown. On April 12, 2014, they set an NCAA record for on-campus attendance for a college baseball game with a whopping 15,586 fans who witnessed MSU pull off an epic 4-run 10th inning and walk off against Ole Miss in extras.
That game broke a 25-year old NCAA record, which was also held by MSU. Ole Miss might not have gotten the last laugh that day, but it did make it to the College World Series for the first time in 42 years while MSU was bounced in the Regional.
Might we get another thrilling Ole Miss-MSU showdown in the not-so-distant future? A lot would have to fall in place in order for that to happen. Ole Miss’ pitchers have to show they have enough left in the tank after a taxing Regional and MSU needs to somehow cool down the scorching hot Notre Dame bats after they put up a combined 50 runs in the Regional.
Those questions will be answered this weekend, and if things fall into place once more, another pressing question could surface.
Is Omaha big enough for not 1, but 2 Mississippi teams?
Perhaps for the first time ever, we’ll find out.