Hail the champs: Mississippi State defeats Vanderbilt to claim first national championship

Published 10:15 pm Wednesday, June 30, 2021

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 like 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.

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.

Mississippi State knocked out Kumar Rocker (14-4) in the fifth. Four of the first five batters in the inning singled, and Rocker left with his team down 5-0. It was the second time in three CWS starts that the projected top-10 draft pick 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 TD Ameritrade Park 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.

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.

This team’s identity was power pitching. The Bulldogs set a Division I record with 817 strikeouts, with Bednar leading the way with 139, and Sims was nails out of the bullpen. The two combined for a CWS-record 21 Ks against Texas.

SEC player of the year Tanner Allen was steady, and the Bulldogs got contributions up and down the lineup during their stay at the CWS — be it Kellen Clark homering off Virginia’s Griff McGarry to break up a no-hitter in the eighth inning, late-game defensive replacement Tanner Leggett’s walk-off single against Texas in the bracket final or Preston Johnson pitching five innings of stellar relief in Game 2 of the finals.