Freshmen helping Bulldogs thrive in Omaha

Published 7:55 am Friday, June 22, 2018

The four freshmen in Mississippi State’s starting lineup took some heat after going a combined 0-for-15 in their College World Series debut.

The second time they played, they brought it.

Designated hitter Jordan Westburg hit a game-changing grand slam that propelled the Bulldogs to a 12-2 win over North Carolina on Tuesday, and tied a CWS record with seven RBIs.

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Rowdey Jordan and Tanner Allen each had RBI singles during an eight-run eighth inning that broke the game open. Justin Foscue reached on a one-out error that helped set up Westburg’s grand slam.

The Bulldogs’ freshman class redeemed itself in a big way and pushed the team within one more win of a trip to the CWS championship series, all with a cool, calm confidence that belies their age and relative inexperience.

Mississippi State plays Oregon State on Friday afternoon, and can advance to the best-of-three finals with a victory.

“A lot of freshmen have contributed all year. It was just one bad game,” Westburg said of the collective oh-fer against Washington in the opener. “I think we bounced back and just knew that it was going to happen the way the season has been going. We were always locked in every game and we’re not going to carry one bad game on to the next.”

Westburg has been one of the breakout stars of this NCAA Tournament, but more for what he’s done in the dugout than on the field. Westburg originated the Rally Banana during the Tallahassee Regional, sparking a craze that has become a symbol of this unlikely run to and through Omaha.

Westburg was slowed by a hamstring injury late in the season, which made it easy to forget he was a steady contributor all season. He’s hitting .261 with 11 doubles and 30 RBIs.

“We know those guys in a real way in terms of who they are and how they respond. And the things that he’s had to make adjustments on are areas that he’s needed to grow in. He’s done a wonderful job,” Mississippi State coach Gary Henderson said. “He and I have had those very, very specific conversations five or six times. If you’re going to play here, if you’re going to be successful here, if you’re going to get on the field, then you need to be able to do these things.”

All of Mississippi State’s newcomers seem to have made an impression. Allen was named to the SEC’s All-Freshman team and is hitting .292 with five home runs and 45 RBIs. His RBI total ranks second on the team.

Jordan is third on the team with a .323 batting average and second with seven home runs. Foscue has had an up-and-down season, but has either had a hit or scored a run in nine of Mississippi State’s 11 postseason games.

“I don’t really consider our freshmen freshmen anymore. I consider them first-year players,” MSU pitcher Konnor Pilkington said. “This time of the season, everybody’s great. No matter if they’re a freshmen or a senior.”

Henderson echoed those thoughts, pointing out that after 66 games and a number of high-pressure situations, the freshmen are much closer to being seasoned veterans than raw rookies.

“I guess Konnor said they’re not freshmen anymore. And there’s a lot of truth to that,” Henderson said. “You can be a freshman the first three, four, SEC weekends, you better grow up or the game will pass you by. And I think our guys have done a really good job.”


2 p.m. ESPN – Mississippi State vs. Oregon State
7 p.m. ESPN – Arkansas vs. Florida or Texas Tech

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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