Mississippi State’s incredible postseason ends just short of championship

Published 4:46 pm Sunday, June 24, 2018

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Kevin Abel and Jake Mulholland made it look easy for Oregon State.

Until it wasn’t.

Abel turned in the Beavers’ best start of the College World Series and the usually reliable Mulholland came on in the eighth inning with a four-run lead and retired the first five batters he faced.

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But Mississippi State proved to be no easy out this postseason and, suddenly, the Bulldogs were down three runs with the bases loaded and Jordan Westburg — founder of the team’s Rally Banana and hitter of a grand slam four days earlier — at the plate.

The Beavers could breathe again after Westburg grounded to shortstop Cadyn Grenier, who double-clutched before throwing to second to finish the 5-2 win that secured Oregon State’s spot in the best-of-three CWS finals against Arkansas.

“Mully is a drama queen. He likes to make things fun,” Abel said, drawing laughs. “We never doubted him. We know he’s been phenomenal all year coming in at the end of games when we’re up 10 runs or in a one-run ball game. He’s been lights out. And he got a little tired and made a couple of mistakes, but he got the job done.”

“Our guys, you could see, were running on fumes,” OSU coach Pat Casey said.

Mississippi State played from behind in four of its eight wins in the NCAA Tournament and had made comebacks in 21 of its 39 wins this season. The Bulldogs’ head coach was fired, they were a sub-.500 team in late March, and they sneaked into the tournament as an at-large selection after sweeping SEC champion Florida to end the regular season.

There were three walk-off wins, and Westburg came up with the Rally Banana good-luck charm that spawned all kinds of memes and unified the team and fan base.

There was to be no rally Saturday, however, in what was their sixth elimination game since the regionals started.

The Beavers were held scoreless besides a five-run third inning, which ultimately decided the game.

“If you told me we would throw up eight zeroes, I would have taken that. Certainly not the five-spot,” Bulldogs interim coach Gary Henderson said. “We really didn’t get to a spot we could solve Kevin Abel. Give the Beavers a lot of credit for their pitching the last two days.”

Henderson took over as interim head coach after Andy Cannizaro was forced out because of off-field conduct and led the Bulldogs to the final four of the NCAA Tournament. Now Henderson waits to find out whether athletic director John Cohen will remove the interim tag and make him the permanent coach.

“Who wouldn’t want to be the baseball coach at Mississippi State?” Henderson said. “I do.”

He added: “It’s a wonderful group. I love my assistant coaches. We would love to continue what we started.”

Originally, Henderson almost didn’t make the postseason, but a sweep of then No. 1 Florida vaulted them into the regionals.

Had the Bulldogs not gone on their incredible run, Henderson might not of even been considered to stay on as the head coach. After their string of comeback and walk-off victories, however, Henderson will certainly be interviewed for the gig, though he’s far from a lock to land it.

Mississippi State returns several key players from this year’s team, such as clutch outfielder Jake Mangum, walk-off extraordinaries Luke Alexander and Elijah MacNamee, and freshman infielder Jordan Westburg, and a solid recruiting class will join them as well. No matter what, the future is bright for the Diamond Dawgs,

But the question still remains, as they try to build off of this year and return to the College World Series, who will be at the helm?