Mississippi State motivated by a pair of losses to Oregon State at last year’s CWS

From left, Jake Mangum, Elijah MacNamee, Justin Foscue and Luke Alexander were starters for Mississippi State last season when it went 2-2 at the 2018 CWS. All are back this season as the Bulldogs look for the national title.

Arkansas, last year’s College World Series runner-up, isn’t the only team on a redemption tour this year.

Mississippi State also has some unfinished business.

The Bulldogs won their first two CWS games last year before losing twice to Oregon State. The Beavers went on to capture the championship while Mississippi State was left to ponder what might have been.

“This year’s a lot different,” Mississippi State senior outfielder Elijah MacNamee said. “We got a taste of it. We got the experience. Now it’s time to do our job.”

Mississippi State will begin its quest for its first national title at 6:30 p.m. Sunday against Auburn at TD Ameritrade Park.

MacNamee said the CWS experience is special for every player. He remembers seeing a poster-size photo of himself on the back wall of the right-field bullpen last year, one of eight to represent each team.

“I was like, ‘I’ve watched this my whole life and I’m here,”’ he said. “My picture’s up on the wall. I’m like, ‘This is unreal.”’

The Bulldogs started last year’s CWS by defeating Washington 1-0 and North Carolina 12-2. But a 12-2 loss to Oregon State was followed by a 5-2 setback against the Beavers, which sent Mississippi State home to Starkville.

MacNamee said he’s not alone when he talks about last year’s disappointment.

“I know all the returners feel the same way,” he said. “We’ve got one job to do — something the school’s never done. We’re here to do it.”

The outfielder added that the pain of the final loss lingered — and motivated.

“It stuck with us,” he said. “It started the day we lost to the day we got back after school from summer. And it was on, we were ready to roll.”

The 51-13 Bulldogs have rolled this season under a new coach. Former Indiana skipper Chris Lemonis was hired last summer.

This will be the Bulldogs’ 11th CWS appearance. Their best finish was runner-up in 2013, losing in the finals to UCLA.

As the team’s new kid on the block, Lemonis addressed his status Friday at a pre-CWS press conference.

“We’re excited to be back,” he said. “I say ‘we,’ but it’s probably a different situation where you have a team that was here last year and a new coach.”

Lemonis echoed MacNamee’s sentiments returning to Omaha.

“Our kids have been really focused on getting back here,” he said. “I know every team in the country has, but our group, after the loss they had last year, it’s been a piece they’ve talked about.”

The Bulldogs will send Ethan Small to the mound Sunday against fellow SEC school Auburn. The left-hander was Mississippi State’s starter for the CWS opener last year and pitched seven scoreless innings in the shutout of Washington.

In Game 1 of this year’s best-of-three super regional against Stanford, Small held the Cardinal to one run and struck out eight in a 6-2 victory. He improved to 10-2, lowered his ERA to 1.76 and took over the nation’s lead in strikeouts with 168 in 102 innings.

Auburn coach Butch Thompson, a former Mississippi State assistant before taking over as Auburn’s coach in 2016, knows all about Small.

“Ethan is special to me,” the coach said. “And his family is special.”

Lemonis got in the final word after Thompson spoke at length about Small, thanking the opposing coach for recruiting him to Mississippi State.

Thompson said his team, which erupted for 13 first-inning runs in the super regional final against North Carolina, will be considered an underdog at the CWS. The Tigers are 38-26.

“We’re thankful to be here,” he said. “And thankful to represent a great university that hasn’t been here since 1997.”

Lemonis said that 13-run Auburn outburst caught the Bulldogs’ attention.

“We were sitting in our offices watching the game and that was a long first inning,” he said. “We know we’re facing a great opponent, an opponent that’s familiar with us and we’re familiar with them.”

Mississippi State won two of three games against visiting Auburn in late March.

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Mike covers high school sports, primarily volleyball in the fall, girls basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring and summer. He also reports on horse racing for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @MPattersonOWH. Phone: 402-444-1350.

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