Bulldogs enjoying the ride to Omaha

Published 7:55 am Friday, June 15, 2018

In three seasons at Mississippi State, Jake Mangum has learned a thing or two about baseball, life, and the relationship between the two.

As he and the Bulldogs prepared for their College World Series opener Saturday night against Washington, one lesson stood out above all the others.

“I told some of the freshmen after we won the super regional, don’t take this for granted. You’re not supposed to be in this situation. It’s really hard to get to this situation,” Mangum said at a press conference earlier this week. “We’ve been to three straight super regionals and there’s not many teams that can say that. Now that we’ve gotten through to Omaha, everyone needs to take this in and make the most of it because it’s really hard to get to this situation.”

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Mangum, a junior center fielder who emerged as the unquestioned leader of the team this season, and the teammates who have been with him the past three years learned that lesson through experience.

Mississippi State reached the super regional round in 2016 and 2017, but was swept by Arizona and LSU, respectively. Three of the four losses were by one run.

The Bulldogs lost another one-run game in this year’s super regional against Vanderbilt — but they also got a walk-off home run and an 11th-inning rally to win twice and finally break through to reach the College World Series.

The difficult postseason road the past few years, even more than the ups and downs of this tumultuous season, led to a sense of relief and appreciation for the chance to play in Omaha.

“I don’t think you can describe it. The feelings and emotions that came over us after that,” Mississippi State pitcher Cole Gordon said of winning the super regional. “You’re so close and have the heartbreak, and see seniors leave, so it’s special to get there and experience it. We’re going to soak it all in. But we’re still there to win, so we’re going to keep our emotions in check.”

That is the next challenge for the Bulldogs (37-27) as they face Washington (35-24) on Saturday night — not just getting to the World Series, but finding a way to win once they get there. The gravity of that was not lost on Mangum.

“When we got back from Starkville it sunk in when we saw the fans waiting for us. That was cool,” Mangum said. “But we’re five wins away from the national championship. We’re not going to take that lightly. The school deserves its first national championship. We hope to get it done.”

Like all the other teams in Omaha, the Bulldogs are coming in with a sense of confidence. They are 23-12 since April 1 and have survived five elimination games in the NCAA Tournament. Four of their six postseason wins were either by one run or won in their last at-bat.

That came after a regular season in which they were 14-15 at one point and might have squeaked into the NCAA Tournament via a sweep of No. 1 national seed Florida in the last weekend of the season.

Past and present adversity has created a team, Gordon said, that is incredibly resilient and knows how to weather the storms that baseball often brings.

“I think things are starting to click. The ball is starting to bounce our way,” Gordon said. “It’s just one of those things that that’s how baseball goes sometimes. It has its ups and downs. If you stay strong through the valleys, usually you’ll come back up.”

2 p.m. ESPN – Oregon State vs. North Carolina
7 p.m. ESPN – Washington vs. Mississippi State
1 p.m. ESPN – Arkansas vs. Texas
6 p.m. ESPN2 – Texas Tech vs. Florida

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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