OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Will Bednar and Landon Sims combined on a one-hitter, Mississippi State scored early and built on its lead, and the Bulldogs won their first national championship with a 9-0 victory over Vanderbilt in the deciding third game of the College World Series finals Wednesday night.
Bednar, working on three days’ rest, walked three of the first five batters he faced before retiring 15 in a row. He turned the game over to the Bulldogs’ star closer to start the seventh, and Vandy broke up the no-hitter when Carter Young singled into center field with one out in the eighth.
It was the first one-hitter at the CWS since 2014, and it seemed as though the whole city of Starkville, Mississippi, was at TD Ameritrade Park to witness it.
When third baseman Kamren James threw to first for the final out, the Bulldogs’ dugout emptied and about 100 fans jumped out of the stands to celebrate as Josh Hatcher waved a national championship flag around the infield. The players then walked the warning track reaching up to high-five the fans.
“You lose the first game of the series and you know how bad our community and school wants this trophy. … When you’re going to do something legendary, it’s going to be tough. The reason we are champions is because we have a tough, resilient group. It’s been built over time.”
Bednar (9-1), whose 15 strikeouts in his Omaha debut against Texas on June 20 were the most here in 25 years, fanned four against Vandy (49-18) and was named the CWS Most Outstanding Player.
The national championship is the first in a team sport for Mississippi State (50-18) and it came in the Bulldogs’ 12th CWS appearance. Only Florida State (23) and Clemson (12) have been to Omaha at least as many times without winning a title.
Tanner and Clark homered in the four-run seventh inning to put the game out of reach against a Vanderbilt offense that managed just seven hits and three runs over the last 25 innings of the finals.
“We didn’t play our best baseball toward the end,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “Getting through regionals was emotional, getting through the super regional was emotional, and this wasn’t easy here. And then there was the groundswell of momentum on the other side. You could feel it and it was real.”
Mississippi State knocked out Kumar Rocker (14-4) in the fifth. Four of the first five batters in the inning singled, and the projected top-10 draft pick left with his team down 5-0 in his final appearance for Vanderbilt.
“He’s meant so much to our program, so much to college baseball, so much to the SEC,” Corbin said. “He’s the best reflection of his parents. That’s high praise. He’s just done everything right. I love that young man.”
It was the second time in three CWS starts that Rocker wasn’t at his best, in part because of more shaky defense behind him.
The Commodores committed six errors in the second and third games of the finals and 13 in seven CWS games. The Bulldogs were error-free in their seven games.
Wednesday’s game ended a CWS unlike any other since it began in 1947. There was no CWS last year because of the pandemic, and COVID-19 was never out of mind during the event’s return even though the stadium was at full fan capacity.
Positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing left North Carolina State with only half its roster available in a 3-1 loss to Vanderbilt last Friday. By that night, a total of eight players had tested positive and prompted the NCAA to remove the Wolfpack from the tournament because of COVID-19 protocols.
A second bracket final between NC State and Vandy was declared a no-contest, and the Commodores were advanced to the finals to go for a second straight title and third since 2014.
They won the opener 8-2 after scoring seven runs in the first inning, but they didn’t do much the rest of the series.
Mississippi State won 13-2 in Game 2 and then, thanks to Bednar, was able to coast to its title-clinching victory.
“Great comeback for them,” Corbin said. “They realized they weren’t out of this when we beat them in the first game.”
It was 36 years in the making, since the still talked-about 1985 Bulldogs with future major league greats Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro became one of the best, if not the best, teams to not win a CWS.
The ’85 team won its first two games in Omaha, then dropped two in a row and was gone. The next four MSU teams to make the CWS won no more than one game here.
The 2013 Bulldogs got to the finals and flamed out, swept by UCLA and scoring only one run in the two games. The 2018 team didn’t put up much fight in the bracket finals against Oregon State, and the 2019 blew a ninth-inning lead in an elimination game against Louisville.
“All the former players own a part of this,” Lemonis said.