By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
OMAHA, Neb. – A whole lot goes into the kind of run Mississippi State has made to the College World Series finals. It’s hard to narrow it down to just a few moments.
But I’m going to try anyway, and what I hope is that this will give you a snapshot of how MSU got to Omaha, where it faces UCLA in the best-of-three title series starting Monday.
These 10 moments should give you various glimpses of the larger arc of this season:
• Trevor Fitts convincing coach John Cohen to relax his policy prohibiting facial hair. The sophomore’s PowerPoint pitch worked because it convinced Cohen that he needed to let this team’s personality express itself, and that’s helped the Bulldogs come up big in clutch moments.
• Freshman reserve Jacob Robson’s 10th-inning, walk-off RBI single against Alabama on May 4 clinched the series for MSU, which went on to sweep the Crimson Tide. That started a trend of late-inning success – since that time, MSU has scored the go-ahead run in the seventh inning or later eight times, twice in the CWS.
• Having already lost the series to rival Ole Miss, the Bulldogs overcame a 6-0 deficit in Game 3 to earn a 7-6 win, setting the stage for a late-season run that earned them an NCAA regional hosting berth. MSU has since won 15 of its last 18.
• In the final SEC series of the regular season, MSU beat South Carolina 5-4 by scoring four times in the eighth inning. Wes Rea’s leadoff home run started the rally, and State went on to win two of three on the weekend.
• Before the season, senior left-handed pitcher Chad Girodo changed his throwing motion, dropping to a sidearm delivery. It made his slider a more devastating pitch, and he’s become a lights-out reliever in the postseason. In three NCAA tournament appearances, Girodo has a 2.33 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 191⁄3 innings.
• In the opener of the super regional against Virginia, Adam Frazier went 6 for 6, setting the tone in an 11-6 win in which State banged out 20 hits.
• MSU beat Oregon State in the CWS opener, but only a few feet kept the result from being reversed. With two outs and two on in a 5-4 game in the bottom of the ninth, Danny Hayes drove a pitch to deep right field that he thought was gone, judging by his bat flip. But right fielder Hunter Renfroe sprinted back and made a difficult catch just shy of the wall.
• In the second game here, versus Indiana, mid-game sub Trey Porter delivered a two-out, two-run single in the eighth to give MSU a 5-3 lead. The Bulldogs went on to win 5-4.
• Rea, a sophomore first baseman, has come up big all postseason. His two-run home run in the third inning of Game 2 at Virginia gave State a 3-1 lead it would not relinquish in a 6-5 win. He had the go-ahead two-run double in the eighth in the first Oregon State game, and his catch of a bouncing throw made the final out against Indiana.
• After going 91 at-bats without a home run, Renfroe blasted a three-run shot against Oregon State on Friday, giving MSU a 4-0 lead. It was his 16th homer of the year, and the Bulldogs won 4-1 to advance to the finals.
Brad Locke (brad.locke@ journalinc.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at DJournal.com.