“Do you believe in miracles? YES!”
That is the now legendary exclamation, made by Al Michaels in the waning moments of the United States’ heroic hockey victory over the Soviet Union in the semifinal game of the 1980 Winter Olympics.
While it wasn't as large of an upset as that storied contest in Lake Placid, the run that the 2017 Mississippi State baseball team has made is nothing short of miraculous.
The Bulldogs have faced every feat of adversity that life could throw at them. Twelve players were drafted in the 2016 MLB Draft, the team has a completely new coaching staff, and seven pitchers have dealt with Tommy John surgery. And, somehow, the Diamond Dawgs of Mississippi State find themselves in a super regional.
An opening loss at the hands of South Alabama made any tournament run seem next to impossible, but a nail-biting victory over Illinois-Chicago and a revenge conquest over South Alabama led State to the regional final against a Southern Miss team that had defeated the Bulldogs in the regular season.
Jacob Billingsley gutted out a complete game victory in game one, after waiting a whole 4 hours and 42 minutes for mother nature to complete her disruption. That set the stage for a winner-take-all title bout between the Bulldogs and Golden Eagles — a setting in which few State fans thought was possible.
Cole Gordon, who started just three days ago, got the nod on the bump. He was able to get two USM batters out, but that was the extent of his damage, being pulled for Trey Jolly after giving up four runs. Jolly was able to make his presence known on the Golden Eagle lineup, striking out two batters and giving up just one run from three hits in 3.1 innings of work.
Spencer Price, dealing with an ankle injury that has bothered him since late April, entered the game and wreaked havoc on USM. Over the course of 3 innings, Price struck out one and gave up just one run from two hits, which came in the form of a solo home run in the 5th. With a 7-6 lead, Riley Self entered the contest and finished the job for the Bulldogs, giving up one hit in 2 innings of scoreless baseball.
This game was a rollercoaster of emotions, on which Mississippi State fans have ridden many times in the past. Things got started in the 1st, when Brent Rooker sent his 23rd long ball over the right centerfield wall. The great start was short-lived, however, as Southern Miss tacked on four runs of their own in the same inning. Facing a three run deficit, the Bulldogs couldn't get anything going offensively. The performances that were showcased in the previous two ballgames vanished in the blink of an eye, and the outlook of the contest was bleak.
Southern continued their harassment of the Bulldogs with a solo shot in the 4th, extending their advantage to 5-1. The game was just about done. There seemed to be no life, and the patchwork quilt that had bound this group together was unraveling. But, in the most dire of circumstances, a ray of light shone upon the Diamond Dawgs, in the form of Cody Brown. Hunter Stovall and Harrison Bragg were on the corners with two outs. Brown faced a full count and sent a changeup down the middle flying, ultimately crashing among the USM fans in the “Right Field Roost”, cutting the Golden Eagles’ lead to 5-4.
The ecstasy of that moment was killed in an instant, when Hunter Slater hit a shot of his own in about the same spot as Brown. The Bulldogs stranded two men in the 6th, but had their best opportunity to turn the momentum around in the next inning, juicing the bases with no outs. However, in a moment that drove State fans mad, only one run came out of said opportunity when Jake Mangum grounded into a double play that plated Brent Rooker.
The Dawgs entered the 8th with a 6-5 deficit. In a situation of men on first and second with two outs, Brent Rooker sent a ball skyrocketing in the air, thankfully landing on green space inside the white line, bringing home Josh Lovelady and Hunter Stovall to give State their first advantage since the top of the 1st inning.
Riley Self entered the contest after a leadoff single relinquished by Spencer Price, and he was able to force three consecutive groundouts to keep the lead intact. Elijah MacNamee gifted the Bulldogs with some insurance, scoring Ryan Gridley with a single up the middle in the 9th.
USM produced a two out single in the bottom of the frame, but Riley Self forced Dylan Burdeaux to fly out in foul territory, sealing a regional title for the Diamond Dawgs of Mississippi State.
It’s hard to describe the emotions of such a situation that State has faced all season long. But, the doggedness shown from this group of Bulldogs is a feat of which everyone should be proud.
With the regional in hand, Mississippi State advances to a super regional of biblical proportions, facing LSU in Baton Rouge. The contests begin Saturday at 8:00 PM, broadcasted on ESPN2.