These Bulldogs really and officially are on top of their world. Mississippi State is looking down upon the rest of the Southeastern Conference as 2016 Champions. Saturday evening, and likely well into Sunday morning, they have been celebrating the return of the SEC crown to Dudy Noble Field for the first time since 1989.
Actually the celebrating began in the stadium stands once Texas A&M’s loss to Ole Miss was confirmed. That outcome meant the Bulldogs, leading Arkansas by four runs at the time, only needed to grind out this game and a real party could start.
Robson and squad knew what had happened as soon as the crowd roared in joy. Though, Robson joked afterwards, he had not technically been told of the Aggie loss which cleared State’s track to the title. “But I assume there was a win that worked to our benefit!”
Better, the Bulldogs got to finish their own win and take a championship the right way, no backing-into involved. This let State run-out the regular season with three consecutive SEC series sweeps, ten-straight league wins total, and in the process set the program record with 21 conference victories. Oh, and that championship, too.
“I mean, it was perfect,” said Robson. “Everything that we’ve done from the end of last year to right now has led up to this moment.”
A moment they can celebrate again Wednesday. That’s when commissioner Greg Sankey will present the championship trophy on the field at Hoover prior to #1 seeded State’s first SEC Tournament game. And thanks to losses by A&M and Florida along with Bulldog wins only one such trophy has to be presented for 2016.
Just all the above would make for a great State story, of course. “But to go from last place to first in one year is almost unheard of,” Robson adds.
No, not almost. In the Southeastern Conference it officially has been unheard of. Since this league began playing baseball in 1933, there had never been a ball club go from very last in one season to outright champions the next.
There was one almost heard of case. And it involved Robson’s coach, too. As Kentucky’s coach Cohen turned the last-place 2005 Wildcats into a ’06 squad which shared the 2006 title, with Alabama. But very last to outright first?
That status belongs to these Bulldogs alone. Just like the 2016 title and trophy.
Every and any championship season has at least one point which in rear-view is recognized as when everything changed, or clicked, or whatever. For Robson and squad, and everyone else who has followed this ball team, that turning point is obvious.
The opening SEC series.
Coming on the heels of the worst mid-week of the entire season. And worst it was, as on the heels of sweeping then-#3 Oregon the Bulldogs saw a big mid-game lead crumble under Eastern Kentucky assault to lose 16-12 in ten innings. The shock had to contribute to the next night’s loss to Oral Roberts.
All this, while State was trying to focus on opening conference play against a program which won the 2014 national title and were ’15 runners up. And, projected as headed back to Omaha this spring. Few would have thought the Bulldogs were in any form or fashion prepared for that road trip.
Only, they were. And on Thursday night in Nashville the Dog showed not just maturing pitching and healthy offense. They showed sheer grit in coming back to top the host Commodores 2-1 in 13 intense innings. Then, they came back for a 5-4 win to take the series.
That, Robson agrees, that was the turning point for everything that came afterwards. “We had some losses before that, but I think the Vandy series was huge for us because we had to battle through some adversity. And it was a close game. A lot of our games lately have not been close so we’ve had some room for error. I don’t think we had any room for error in that Vandy series.”
Robson figures that same confidence, and toughness, will be needed again. Because he expects games to get much tougher and closer in NCAA play. In fact Robson saw a reminder on championship day when Arkansas startled everyone with a first-inning, two-run homer. Or when the Razorbacks tried a late rally. It only delayed the celebrating a bit but it was a reminder, to Robson.
“It’s going to help us a ton in the future. It’s never over until it’s over.”
No. It is just beginning. A couple of other Dogs even noted that once the championship buzz fades today, they’ll get right back to work preparing for both the SEC and NCAA tournaments. This may well serve as to symbolize what the 2016 Diamond Dogs are about.
Work, and winning.
Robson won’t claim more credit than due any individual Dog, understand. But as a team captain he certainly deserves lots of caps tipped in his direction, along with co-captains Brent Rooker and Dakota Hudson. It must means maybe more to the fourth-year outfielder who watched the 2013 team roll to Omaha and the national finals; then played through the frustrations of falling into the 2015 SEC cellar.
“I took that responsibility at the end of last year. I told myself I was going to be the captain this year, Rooker and Hudson have done a great job along my side to guide this team and the younger guys and show how to win. And how to keep winning.”
Right, keep winning. See, the SEC Championship represents history and all. The trophy ceremony will confirm this Bulldog ball club’s place at the top. They each mean Mississippi State has met its regular season goal of being #1.
“And that being said, we’re not done yet,” Robson said. “We haven’t accomplished our ultimate goal, which is to won the whole thing.”