STARKVILLE, Miss. – The Mississippi State Bulldogs are back in the College World Series for the second straight season after defeating Stanford in the Starkville Super Regional.
Head coach Chris Lemonis' team is 51-13 and has not lost a game in the NCAA Tournament yet.
The Bulldogs begin play in Omaha at 6:30 p.m. Sunday against Auburn (38-26). Here are five things you need to know about Mississippi State before the Dogs and Tigers take the field at TD Ameritrade Park.
Redshirt junior Ethan Small is starting Sunday. He's the SEC Pitcher of the Year, and he was also recently selected in the first round of the 2019 MLB Draft. He was picked 28th overall by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Small is 10-2 this season with a 1.76 ERA. He has reached double-digit strikeouts v in 11 of his 17 starts. He has 168 strikeouts, more than any other pitcher in the NCAA. He's only t6walked 29 batters, too.
Mississippi State is 13-4 in games in which Small has started. One of those four losses was to Auburn in a game in which Small pitched six innings and only allowed two earned runs. He has not allowed more than three runs in a game all year.
Small became the first pitcher in Mississippi State history to win the College Baseball Foundation's National Pitcher of the Year award when it was announced on Wednesday.
Small is the first thing Mississippi State throws at you when the Bulldogs are in the field, and senior center fielder Jake Mangum is the first thing thrown at the opposition when the Bulldogs are up to bat.
Mangum has 378 hits in his career, more than any player in Southeastern Conference history. His total ranks fifth in NCAA history. He only needs eight more hits to take third place on the all-time list.
Mangum is batting .355 this season and has 103 hits on the year, which is already a career high. He broke out of a slump in the regional round with a three-hit performance against Miami, and he tacked on three more hits in the two games against Stanford in the super regional series.
Though it is his first time in Omaha as a head coach, Lemonis knows what it's like to be a part of a College World Series team. He went as an assistant coach at Louisville in 2007, 2013 and 2014.
The Cardinals fell short of the title in all three years, but Lemonis believes something is different about this Mississippi State team. He feels the Bulldogs have the right balance of pitching, defending and hitting to win the national championship.
Lemonis set the Southeastern Conference record for most wins as a first-year head coach when he picked up his 45th, and every win thereafter has strengthened his hold on that accolade.
The team is currently tied for the second-most wins in a single season in program history. If the Bulldogs win it all, they will surpass the current record of 54 wins in 1989. Legendary coach Ron Polk was in Lemonis' shoes then.
Mississippi State improbably made it to Omaha last year with four freshman playing critical roles. Those players are sophomores now who know what to expect once they step onto the field at TD Ameritrade Park.
First baseman Tanner Allen and second baseman Justin Foscue are two of the three players on the roster who have started all 64 games this season. Mangum is the other.
Shortstop Jordan Westburg and left fielder Rowdey Jordan have started 63 games each. Mississippi State would not be in this position without the steadiness of this quartet of second-year players.
Allen leads the team in RBIs with 64. Foscue leads the team in home runs with 14. Westburg has drawn more walks (38) than any of his teammates. Jordan was just named the Most Valuable Player of the Starkville Regional. All four players will have big roles in Omaha.
This is Mississippi State's 11th trip to the College World Series. The Bulldogs have come back empty-handed each time. Lemonis said his guys aren't going for the T-shirts this time around.
Mississippi State has the fourth-most CWS appearances without winning the national championship. The closest MSU ever came to winning it all was in 2013 when the team made it to the final series but lost in two games to UCLA.
Last season, the Bulldogs made it to the semifinals before bowing out with two-straight losses to eventual national champion Oregon State. Time will tell if Mississippi State finally gets over the hump and takes a title back to Starkville.
Contact Tyler Horka at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @tbhorka on Twitter. To read more of Tyler's work, subscribe to the Clarion Ledger today!