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Mississippi State has been making Omaha, CWS a regular end-of-season destination

Tyler Horka
Jackson Clarion-Ledger
Mississippi State's Tanner Allen hits an RBI single against Louisville during the 2019 College World Series. This year, Allen is one of five Bulldogs who have hit double-digit home runs. That hasn't happened in Starkville since 1998.

STARKVILLE, Miss. — Landon Sims recalls the conversation vividly. 

Mississippi State was playing Stanford in the 2019 Starkville Super Regional. The Bulldogs beat the Cardinal in two games to punch the program's 11th ticket to the College World Series.

Sims, now a second-year freshman for Mississippi State, was asked by his parents if he wanted to take a trip to Omaha to watch his future college team compete for a national championship.

"I was like, 'Let's save the money,'" Sims said, "Because I have a really good feeling we're going to take a trip or two to Omaha while I'm here."

He was right.

Sims and the 2021 Bulldogs (45-16) are headed back to the College World Series for their third straight trip. No other team in the country has matched that feat.

Bulldogs coach Chris Lemonis said that's the way it should be. If not, he said, "then everybody is disappointed. It's not like that everywhere else in the country."

"Obviously when you decide to go to Mississippi State, you're going to a program where that's the aspiration," Lemonis said. "That's why we have the ballpark we do, the fan base we do. Our goal is to keep it moving and keep it moving forward.

"The nice part is all these young players in the program right now, they've experienced it. They want it. That just continues to grow and set the expectation further."

Mississippi State shortstop Jordan Westburg walks off the field at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. as Louisville players celebrate a walk-off win during the 2019 College World Series. The Bulldogs are making their third straight CWS appearance this year.

It was Sims himself who recorded the final 12 outs against Notre Dame in Game 3, too. He has been an important piece of Mississippi State's success all season, allowing just eight earned runs in 46 1/3 innings. He has 85 strikeouts and 14 walks.

As great as he's been, he's still just one player. There have been so many more who have meant a lot to what Mississippi State — whose CWS opener is against Texas on Sunday — has accomplished.

Senior right fielder Tanner Allen was the SEC player of the year. He's hitting .392 going into Omaha. Senior center fielder Rowdey Jordan is the heart and soul of the Bulldogs in many ways.

Allen and Jordan were two of five players who hit double-digit home runs. That hasn't happened at MSU since 1998. As a team, the Bulldogs have hit 77 home runs, the most since 2000. Second-year freshman catcher Logan Tanner leads the team with 14.

"The culture around here is to win and go as far as you can," Tanner said. "I think the culture here is great. It's probably the best in the country, if I had to say so." 

Teams don't get to Omaha on hitting alone. Notre Dame learned that the hard way in Starkville. The Irish outscored the Bulldogs 24-21 in the three-game series. Key outs when Bulldogs pitchers needed them most in Games 1 and 3 were the difference. 

Sims had a six-out save in Game 1. Before then, sophomore reliever Preston Johnson stabilized the game after Mississippi State had fallen behind 7-3. Lemonis has gotten big relief outings like that from a number of relievers throughout the season.

He got a big start from senior lefty Houston Harding on Monday, too. Lemonis put the ball — and the season — in the hand of the Itawamba Community College transfer's hand, and he delivered with four innings of two-run ball.

That kind of consistency is what has gotten Mississippi State to this point.

"That is the standard," Harding said of reaching Omaha. "That is what we expect to do every single year. It's just been an honor to be a part of it."