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How Mississippi State's mood is different in second-straight College World Series appearance

Last updated: 06-17-2019

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How Mississippi State's mood is different in second-straight College World Series appearance

OMAHA, Nebraska — Don't let senior right fielder Elijah MacNamee's brief mental lapse fool you. 

When Mississippi State pitcher Cole Gordon recorded the final out of the Starkville Super Regional this past Sunday, his teammates swarmed him from all sides. 

The first Bulldogs to blast him were the ones who hopped over the dugout wall at Dudy Noble Field. Infielders flanked him from the left and right shortly thereafter. It took nearly 30 seconds for the outfielders to reach the pile of Diamond Dawgs. 

"I completely forgot you dog pile to go to Omaha," said MacNamee, the last to eventually hop on the pile. 

Before they realized the party was taking place near the pitcher's mound and heading that way, MacNamee and senior center fielder Jake Mangum embraced briefly in the outfield and shared a short exchange — one that defines the 2019 version of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

MacNamee talked to reporters Friday in Omaha about what feels different about making it to the CWS this year versus last year.

"It was definitely a different feeling because of the roller coaster we had," MacNamee said. "This year, it's like, 'We're going to Omaha, but we're not just going to Omaha. We're going to win.' We're going there with a job to to and a job to finish."

Mississippi State was one win away from the championship series last year. The Bulldogs dropped two in a row to Oregon State in the semifinals to prevent them from getting there. 

Sure, there was a bitter taste in the Bulldogs' mouths because of those defeats to the eventual national champion, but there was not a sense of devastation. Mississippi State was not supposed to be in Omaha.

Not after a season-opening sweep at the hands of Southern Miss. Not after one of the more embarrassing head coach firings in recent memory a week after that. Not after starting the SEC slate of the season with a 2-7 record. 

Just being a part of the College World Series was enough in 2018. This year things have changed. 

First-year MSU head coach Chris Lemonis arrived on campus a couple days after Mississippi State's final loss of the 2018 season. He said it was already evident then how hard his players were going to work to get back in 2019. 

Lemonis inherited most of the players from last year's unpredictable run to the CWS. He knew he was coming in to coach an immensely talented group of guys who couldn't stop talking about wanting to get back to Omaha. 

"Our kids have been really focused on getting back here," Lemonis said Friday at a press conference in Omaha. "I know every team in the country has, but our group, after the loss they had last year, it's been a piece they've talked about."

Still, getting to the College World Series isn't something teams can just speak into existence. They still have to win games on the field. It doesn't matter how good they look on paper or how destined they are to get back to the pinnacle of the sport. 

The Bulldogs have held up their end of the bargain. The season has gone about as smoothly as anyone could have predicted.

They only lost one series at home.

They only lost one series on the road.

And they've yet to lose in the NCAA Tournament.

Gordon, who has 11 saves this season, said he realizes there is still work left to do, but he acknowledged the fact that Mississippi State is in a much better spot this year than it was last year. 

"It's even more exciting this year because we know what to expect," the senior said. "We know how exciting it is, how important it is and how much it means to us and our fans... Getting there last year just allowed us to realize how badly we want that national championship and how much more we need to do (to win it)." 

Last Sunday celebrating in the outfield with Mangum, MacNamee thought back to the promise he made last year in the locker room at TD Ameritrade Park after MSU lost to Oregon State when he told reporters with certainty that they would be back in Omaha in 2019.

"We're going back. We did it," MacNamee told Mangum amid the hysteria at Dudy Noble Field.

"Let's go finish this thing," Mangum responded before they bolted toward the dog pile.

More: College World Series: 3 things to know about Mississippi State baseball's Ethan Small

More: 'A hero': How Elijah MacNamee overcame tragedy to help Mississippi State get back to College World Series

Contact Tyler Horka at Follow @tbhorka on Twitter. To read more of Tyler's work, subscribe to the Clarion Ledger today!

Mississippi State (51-13) will face off against Auburn (38-26) at 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Mississippi State was 3-2 against Auburn during the regular season.

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