OMAHA, NEB. -- In the decisive Game 3 of the 2021 Men's College World Series finals, Mississippi State battered Vanderbilt by a score of 9-0 and in doing so claimed the Division I national championship. It's the first national championship for Mississippi State in any team sport. As for Vanderbilt, they came up one game short in their bid to repeat as national champions. They won the College World Series in 2019, and in 2020 the tournament was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Game 3 of the best-of-three finals carried with it the promise of a legendary pitchers duel, but only one of the starting pitchers lived up to that pregame ballyhoo. On the mound for Vandy was junior right-hander Kumar Rocker, a likely top 10 pick in the upcoming MLB draft and the Most Outstanding Player of the 2019 CWS. Opposing him was Bulldogs right-hander Will Bednar, a draft-eligible redshirt freshman who has a shot at going late in the first round. Earlier in this CWS, Bednar struck out 15 Texas Longhorns.
For Rocker, though, he endured uncharacteristic and untimely struggles. Consistent fastball velocity has been an issue for Rocker all season, and in the first he was generally sitting at 93 -- i.e., well below his peak velo. He allowed a run on a sac fly, but the opening frame could've been worse for Rocker and the Commodores if not for a generous zone from plate umpire Perry Costello.
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Rocker worked slowly and was warned for violating the pitch clock in the first inning. In the second inning, he was penalized a ball for a second delay violation. In that second inning, he wound up walking two, giving up a double, and permitting two more runs. Things unraveled in the fifth when four of the first five hitters in the MSU lineup singled off Rocker to push the lead to 5-0. After that fourth single of the frame by catcher Logan Tanner, Rocker's night was over. He wound up allowing five runs -- four earned -- on six hits in 4 ⅓ innings. He struck out six and walked two. In the seventh, Tanner and MSU DH Kellum Clark homered off reliever Chris McElvain to make the score 9-0 in favor of the eventual champs.
Faring vastly better -- legendarily so -- was Bednar. He overcame some early control problems and then showed the skill and command of three pitches that may make him a future member of a big-league rotation. In particular, he had his slider working:
Bednar issued a pair of free passes in the first, but was able to induce a 6-4-3 double play with one out and keep Vandy off the board. After allowing a leadoff walk in the second, Bednar proceeded to retire 15 straight to end what turned out to be an unforgettable night on the mound. In the end, Bednar twirled six hitless innings without allowing a run. Along the way, he struck out four, walked three, and induced nine ground-outs thanks to his ability to get swings on pitches out of and at the margins of the zone. The biggest pitching performance in program history capped a dominant 2021 CWS for Bednar:
Will Bednar was legendary in three games in Omaha.— Robbie Faulk (@robbiefaulk247) July 1, 2021
18.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 6 BB, 26 K
Those numbers include a pair of starts against Texas earlier in the CWS, and, yes, that's five hits allowed in 18 ⅓ innings. Not surprisingly, Bednar was named Most Outstanding Player for the 2021 CWS.
After Bednar's six no-hit innings, relief ace Landon Sims, working on four days of rest, brought it home for Mississippi State with three scoreless frames. With one out in the eighth, Sims allowed the first and only Vanderbilt hit of the game, a clean single to left-center by shortstop Carter Young.
With the Game 3 outcome, national champion Mississippi State finishes the year at 50-18 under third-year coach Chris Lemonis. Tim Corbin and runner-up Vanderbilt fall to 49-18.
Now for some additional things to know about this one ...
Fittingly, there was a dog pile
It's the Bulldogs, you know, so let's roll tape:
Pile of dogs, indeed.
Mississippi State also won the party
This year's three-game set between Vandy and MSU set a CWS record for total attendance at a final series (72,226) and for the final game of a CWS (24,052 for Game 3). From the press box, the perhaps conservative estimate is that Mississippi State fans made up about 90 percent of those figures. Anecdotal Game 2 evidence forthcoming:
Back in Starkville, Dudy Noble Field is home to perhaps the most exuberant and raucous fan bases in all college baseball. That vibe was transported to Omaha pretty seamlessly during the finals.
The SEC still lords over the sport
Yes, an SEC team has claimed both belt and title once again. We knew that in advance of the finals given that it was an intra-conference affair, but now it's officially official. As such, let's quickly take a closer look at the SEC's recent dominance of the sport. With a corsair's disregard for the established order, we're going to wield bullet points under a subhead. As digestible as a rice sandwich is what this content is. Onward:
- An SEC team has now won seven of the last 12 national championships in baseball.
- The SEC has placed at least one team in the CWS finals in 12 of the last 13 seasons.
- The SEC now leads all conferences with 106 College World Series appearances.
- The SEC's 13 College World Series titles is a distant second to the Pac-12's 29. However, the SEC has racked up all their rings since 1990. Over that same span, the Pac-12 (and its previous iterations) has won six College World Series. Stated another way, the Pac-12 won the majority of its national championships in baseball before 1975. In recent years, the SEC's dominance is unmatched.
With MSU's triumph, six SEC teams have now won a national title. The others are Florida, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt.
Not surprisingly, the College World Series and TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha are not unaware of a heavy regional presence, and that awareness is reflected by the choices in concessions:
Yes, that's from TD Ameritrade Park, and that's sweet tea for sale in the westernmost reaches of Big Ten country.
MSU was well represented on the All-Tournament Team
It stands to reason that the team to win it all will be a dominating presence on the All-Tournament Team. The 2021 squad was no exception. Here's a look:
C - Logan Tanner, Mississippi State
1B - Luke Hancock, Mississippi State
2B - Tim Tawa, Stanford
3B - Zack Gelof, Virginia
SS - Lane Forsythe, Mississippi State
OF - Tanner Allen, Mississippi State
OF - Brock Jones, Stanford
OF - Rowdey Jordan, Mississippi State
DH - Ivan Melendez, Texas
P - Will Bednar, Mississippi State
P - Jack Leiter, Vanderbilt
That's a majority of the 11 spots going to the national champs.
Vanderbilt was on the verge of joining elite company
In the end Vandy wound up being one game away from becoming just the 10th program to win at least three D-I national championships in baseball. Corbin, in turn, could've become just the eighth coach in D-I baseball history to win at least three national titles. Beyond all that, Vanderbilt missed a chance to become just the seventh program to win back-to-back Men's College World Series.
It was a long time coming for Mississippi
As noted above, this marks the first team national championship in the history of Mississippi State athletics. As well, it's the first major sport D-I title for any team from Mississippi since Ole Miss split the 1960 national championship in football. Since this native of the state insists that Mississippi has the best football and baseball in the country on a per-capita basis, what happened Wednesday night in Omaha was overdue.