Mississippi State has won six-straight post-season games before, counting conference tourney play. The 1990 Bulldogs won their last thee contests at the SEC Tourney (though the title game was halted early by lightning), then the first three regional games at Starkville.
KA-RUSHHHED: It didn't win the game, but RF Mitch Moreland gave the crowd of 23,568 and national TV audience something to oooh and aaah about when he blasted a ball over the tall centerfield wall in the top of the seventh inning. It was the junior's tenth home run of the season and his most impressive, probably.
"I can't remember if it was the longest but I hit it pretty well," said Moreland. "At the same time you've got to win that game. Like Coach said, that four run-inning we left two on second and third. And that was me." Moreland was referring to a two-out, two-on situation with State having jumped to a 4-0 lead and North Carolina changing pitchers. He grounded hard but to the shortstop.
"If I get a hit right there it might change the game. I kind of slapped it, the two-strike swing. I should have had a better at-bat."
TURN, TURN, TURNER: By going 2-of-5 at the plate, second baseman Brandon Turner raised his season average by a hair to .3971. That leaves the rookie five points behind Florida star and first-round draft pick Matt LaPorta for the SEC batting lead.
Regardless of how his year concludesTurner will conclude this season in elite company, as the first Diamond Dog freshman since Rafael Palmeiro in 1983 to top the team in batting. And he's not far behind Palmeiro's rookie-year rate of .406.
REA REPORT: Senior 2B Jeffrey Rea continues to extend his Mississippi State career hits record, with 332 now. That leaves him nine out of tying for second place on the all-time SEC list. And with four official trips to the dish Friday, Rea now has had more at-bats (994) than any Bulldog. He passed the 993 mark held by Matthew Maniscalco.
GOTCHA!: By picking behind Tarheel Reid Fronk in the third inning, C Edward Easley bagged his 30th baserunner of the season. Easley led the SEC this season in runners caught.
OMAHA IMPRESSIONS: Rosenblatt Stadium and the College World Series experience has been everything the Diamond Dogs had hoped, up to the final score of their opening game. At the same time, they've already noticed something different in a less impressive way about college ball's ultimate event.
It's too quiet here. Well, not quiet exactly, but…freshman 3B Russ Sneed explains that there isn't the sort of intimacy of typical campus venues. "Coming from Dudy Noble and everything, this field feels like it's a mile away. It's not that loud. It's a great atmosphere because you can see everybody and it's a lot of people.
"But the fans aren't a big deal because you can't hear anything they're saying. It's just so far away they don't play a big part in it, it's kind of like the festivities are going on over here but you can't hear it and you're out there and have to stay in the game. It's fun, though."
MAKING THE GRADES: Polk takes as much pride in how his players perform in the classroom as on the field, and this year the Diamond Dogs combined for a 3.16 team grade average. That is the best squad GPA of the College World Series clubs. And individually freshman shortstop Jet Butler achieved his own distinction. Butler, who posted a perfect 4.00 average for his first college year, was recognized for holding the highest GPA of any of the 200 players dressed out on the eight teams in Omaha.
In fact, the Bulldog game-one battery of P Justin Pigott and C Edward Easley were 4.0 students for the spring semester.
CROSSING PATHS: Arriving at the Rosenblatt Stadium press box, the seat reserved for Dawgs' Bite (mis-titled ‘Bully Bite' somehow!) was occupied. Temporarily, as State's game was still three hours away. This let the editor get to know the squatter, Mike Gustafson, a trustee of the College Baseball Foundation. And his guest: Pete Incaviglia, the slugger for Oklahoma State in the mid-1980s. Many MSU fans won't recall that name or program with much fondness, but Incaviglia (honored by the Foundation this year among the 11 Hall of Fame inductees) proved a fine fellow and entertaining talker for a half-hour, discussing that 1985 College World Series when his Cowboys met and lost to the Diamond Dogs in the CWS second round. That was also the year State's Will Clark won the Golden Spikes Award over Incaviglia, and who knows whether that game in Omaha might have tipped the voting balance? Incaviglia, who has been coaching with Detroit, asked about Clark, Jeff Brantley, and others from that State squad, and spoke of having recently seen Rafael Palmeiro.
Gustafson, who played at Texas Tech and now works on behalf of college baseball, and the editor also shared a connection, as he asked about my old boss Bo Carter, MSU's sports info director from 1976-86.
*Meanwhile, the College Baseball Foundation has three finalists for its Player of the Year. All three are familiar to the Diamond Dogs: Vanderbilt pitcher David Price, Florida first baseman Matt LaPorta, and Florida State second baseman Tony Thomas. The trio knows about State, too, as Price had to survive a MSU comeback at the SEC Tournament to get his win over the Dogs; while LaPorta's Gators lost two-of-three to State in Gainesville, and of course Thomas and the Seminoles were beaten twice in the Tallahassee Regional.