OMAHA -- Mississippi State just has that feeling.
Whether it was South Carolina on the road to back-to-back national titles, or Arizona capturing the national title last season, teams that advance to the CWS Championship Series and eventually win the national title always seem to have the same traits. The Gamecocks and Wildcats certainly played good baseball on the way to their respective national titles, but also important -- both seemed to have a lot of luck on their side, something all coaches believe is a big part of the NCAA postseason.
The Bulldogs absolutely fit that billing. In the first meeting against Oregon State, the wind knocked down a hard-hit ball by Danny Hayes in right field at the last second for the final out of the game. Then, in their second game against Indiana, the Bulldogs again made all the necessary plays, easy and difficult, to set the stage for the bracket championship -- a rematch against the Beavers.
Right on track with the way the rest of the CWS has progressed for the Bulldogs, they used elite defense, clutch hitting and good overall pitching to beat Oregon State 4-1, and as a result, advance to play for the national title for the first time in school history.
"I think that's why we've been doing so well. We're loose, and it seems like we've been behind every game in the postseason, except today, obviously," Mississippi State first baseman Wes Rea said. "Just the feeling in the dugout, it's special. The emotional activity, nothing seems to get us down, and we always get the feeling someone is about to do something.
"I don't even want to say those two words [national title]. That's the kind of attitude this team has," Rea continued. "We're not putting a title anything. We don't want to say the NC word. Those letters aren't even going to be said the next few days. We're just going to play baseball."
Like it or not, that's the formula that has been working for the Bulldogs throughout the postseason. But while the Bulldogs are chipper and ready to accomplish something that hasn't been done in program history, not everyone entered the contest feeling overly confident -- jokingly, of course.
In the minutes before the game, Mississippi State head coach John Cohen led his team through the underneath tunnel at TD Ameritrade Park, eventually losing their way and unable to find the field. Being the superstitious man that he is, Cohen thought surely that was a bad omen for things to come against the Beavers.
Kendall Graveman had other plans.
The last time Graveman faced the Beavers, it wasn't so pretty. Graveman struck out just two batters, walked one and allowed four runs on six hits in 4 2/3 innings of work in his first meeting against OSU in the College World Series. However, he was a different pitcher in this contest, pounding the strike zone with fastballs, showing good command, and putting together one of his best starts of the year despite admittedly being a little tired.
"The whole story of the game was Kendall Graveman having some sink and staying at the bottom of the strike zone. That was a very good Oregon State club we beat," Cohen said. "I thought it was like a heavyweight fight where every time they got us into cripple counts, they hit us, and vice versa. Kendall getting us that deep into the game was big, we played really clean defense and we got the big hit when we really needed it."
Graveman was in a groove from the get-go against the Beavers. He retired the first seven batters of the game, and though he didn't rack up gaudy strikeout totals, was very efficient with 74 pitches, while striking out two and allowing just a run on four hits in 5 2/3 innings of work.
"For me to see them the other day, that was pretty big on my part," Graveman said. "Once I see a team and face them, I feel like I can discover a few things. I kind of really turned things around for myself. I didn't want to do the same thing [as the other day]."
Also impressive about Graveman's performance against the Beavers is the fact he had to be so accurate with Oregon State sending freshman right-handed pitcher Andrew Moore to the mound. Like Graveman the first time these two teams met in Omaha, Moore allowed four runs in 7 1/3 innings of work. He was good against the Bulldogs the last time out, but not great.
Moore wanted to shine in the rematch against the Bulldogs, and he looked very good in the early going. Moore retired the first six batters of the game, and allowed a run in the fourth inning on an RBI single by C.T. Bradford. However, the defining moment of the game came in the fifth inning.
Moore recorded the first two outs of the fifth inning with ease, but Adam Frazier and Alex Detz kept things alive for Mississippi State with singles. Then, first-round pick Hunter Renfroe went to work. Renfroe took a 3-1 curveball left up in the zone and sent a laser beam over the left-field wall, making it 4-0 in MSU's favor. Interestingly, it was Renfroe's first home run in 91 at bats, 16th of the season.
Just like that, the Bulldogs were rolling. They never looked back.
"We got two quick outs there, I just got a bit lazy there. Coach called a 3-1 curveball and I tried to bury it, but made a mistake and left it up a bit," Moore said. "Renfroe is a great player and he made me pay for it. MSU is a great team and when you do that against a great team, they're going to get some runs to show for it."
While Renfroe led the charge at the plate with that three-run home run, first baseman Wes Rea, who's hitting .462 in Omaha, continued his hot hitting with two hits, including a double in the fourth inning.
Meanwhile, while Graveman wasn't able to go the distance for the Bulldogs, left-handed specialist Ross Mitchell tossed 2 2/3 shutout innings out of the bullpen, while hard-throwing right-handed closer Jonathan Holder recorded his 21st save of the season by closing out the contest.
With the win, the Bulldogs are now two wins away from accomplishing something not even the 1985 club, which included Jeff Brantley, Rafael Palmeiro, Bobby Thigpen and Will Clark, was able to do -- that's winning the program's first national title.
Mississippi State undoubtedly will have a difficult foe in the CWS Championship Series, but this team isn't real concerned about that.
There's just a feeling about John Cohen's club.
CWS snapshot: Oregon State-Mississippi State
Player of the game: RHP Kendall Graveman, Mississippi State -- Though Hunter Renfroe had the huge three-run home run in the fifth, the veteran right-handed pitcher got the Bulldogs off to a hot start and set the tone for the game. Graveman struck out two, walked one and allowed just a run on four hits in 5 2/3 innings of work. He also threw 74 pitches, 48 for strikes against the Beavers.
Turning point: Mississippi State got a terrific performance from right-handed pitcher Kendall Graveman, but only had a 1-0 lead heading to the bottom of the fifth inning. However, the Bulldogs would leave no doubt that inning. All with two outs, the Bulldogs got singles from Adam Frazier and Alex Detz, before hard-hitting outfielder Hunter Renfroe had the big blast with a laser beam-style home run to the bullpen in left field to make it 4-0 in the Bulldogs' favor. With Graveman dealing and the bullpen waiting in the wings, State didn't look back on the way to victory.
What they said: "I will be much more prepared to answer that question about six months from now. For right now, I'm thinking about what we're going to do tomorrow morning to try to get ready. And I'm not speaking in cliche, I really mean that. I guess I'm just not smart enough to put all the things in perspective that people keep wanting to tell me and all of our players. And all the support is great, and we love it, but these guys are trained, really, in a very positive way, to just think about what's next. So all those things are wonderful. I'm glad that our fans get to ponder all those philosophical things. But we've got tomorrow, and tomorrow we're going to work out and we're going to get ready to play on Monday." -- Mississippi State coach John Cohen on playing for the national title
What's next: With the win over the Beavers, this year's Bulldogs club has already made history by advancing to the CWS Championship Series. Previously, State has only gotten as far as third place in the CWS, that feat coming from the 1985 club, which included Jeff Brantley, Rafael Palmeiro, Will Clark and Bobby Thigpen. While the Bulldogs will play for a national title for the first time in school history, Oregon State's magical campaign ends with a fabulous 52-13 overall record. OSU shouldn't feel too bad, as it will have yet another ranked club heading into the 2014 season.