State ended the 1980s by making history, winning 54 games in 1989, the most in school history.
Although State lost several important pieces from the 1989 team due to either the Major League Baseball draft or graduation, most of the pitching staff returned, as did several important position players such as Tommy Raffo, Tracy Echols, John Cohen, Burke Masters and Jon Shave.
Polk also added a recruiting class that consisted of Steve Hegan, B.J. Wallace (16th round), Trent Hill, Damon Gardner, Eddie Lyons, Jeff Mackin, Tom Quinn (the only juco among the group), and David Perkins. Four other players also signed with State - Greg Blosser (1st round), B. Wilson (2nd round), Ron Krause (3rd round) and T.R. Lewis (4th round) - but all four were drafted and eventually signed pro contracts during the summer.
While many State fans were optimistic about the 1990 team, it was a cautious optimism.
With the way the season started - a two-game losing streak - it appeared the cautious part was justified. But the 'Dogs then won 11 of their next 13 to move to 11-4 on the season. From that point on, the team would follow a pattern of winning 4 to 6 games, then losing a game. But the wins steadily increased the record to a very solid 41-17 by the end of the regular season, a season that concluded on a high note with a two-game sweep of Ole Miss in Oxford. An SEC record of 17-9 put MSU in third place overall.
Next up for the 'Dogs was the SEC Tournament.
State came into the Tournament winners of 7 of their last 8. And they continued those winning ways in the tournament - destroying Auburn 16-2 in the first game. After a tough 17-8 loss to LSU, they roared back to win the next three, including a 3-1 victory over the LSU Tigers in the championship game.
Up next for State was hosting an NCAA Regional, the 6th one they had hosted in the last 7 years. And it would probably be the most dramatic regional in the history of MSU baseball.
It started out innocently enough with State soundly defeating Brigham Young 16-5 and then Illinois in a close one, 5-3.
Then, what many consider to be the most dramatic home run in the history of MSU baseball happened by one of the least likely players.
Top-seeded Florida State, the third ranked team in the country at the time with an impressive 55-13 record, led State 8-5 going into the top of the 9th inning. And that appeared to be bad news for the Bulldogs because FSU was 53-0 when leading after eight innings. And they had their closer, Ricky Kimball, on the mound. Things looked bleak for the Bulldogs.
But Kimball didn't seem to have his best stuff, and the Bulldogs rallied. After Rex Buckner knocked in a run with a fielder's choice, Kimball hit a batter to load the bases, He then walked in a run to make the score 8-7 FSU.
Burke Masters, who was 5-for-5 on the day (all singles) and 11-13 for the regional up to that point, was up next. The fans were going wild. Kimball, who appeared to be rattled by the crowd noise, worked the count to 3-1. And the fans got even louder. Kimball fired a fastball waste high. Masters swung and hit the ball on the sweet part of the bat. And he knew the instant he hit it where it was going, which was deep into the Left Field Lounge. The MSU fans went crazy as Masters rounded the bases. They even called him out for an encore once he got into the dugout. The Bulldogs now led 11-8 and only had to get through the bottom of the 9th inning to put FSU in the loser's bracket.
State brought in Bobby Reed, normally a starter, to close the game out with one out in the 9th. And he got FSU's hitters to hit two routine groundouts to, ironically, Masters to end the game.
Now, all State needed was one more victory and they were heading to Omaha and the College World Series.
But Florida State had other ideas. After winning their elimination game, they defeated MSU 11-9, setting up a Monday championship game.
In the game, Florida State took an early lead off of MSU ace Bobby Reed, and held it until the 8th inning. With men on first and third, Tommy Raffo hit a line drive that just eluded FSU's right fielder. Both runners scored, tying the game. Then, Jon Shave, on a 2-2 count, hit a single to center field, knocking in Raffo with the go-ahead run.
Two more shutout innings was all it would take. Reed was still on the mound for the 'Dogs. FSU put men on 1st and 3rd with one out in the bottom of the 8th. The MSU fans were getting worried. A screaming line drive that was heading toward Reed's face was miraculously caught by him and then thrown to first to double the runner off, ending the inning. Then, in the 9th Florida State went quietly down, sealing MSU's 5th trip to the College World Series.
First up for State was the Georgia Bulldogs, a team that had already beaten MSU 2 of 3 during the season. And thew were facing Bulldog ace David Fleming. And liked he did during the season, he shut the 'Dogs down, this time 3-0. (Georgia, which won the CWS that year, only allowed 8 runs in their 5 CWS games that year.)
Facing elimination, State defeated Polk's former team, Georgia Southern, 15-1, but wound up being eliminated by Stanford in the very next game, 6-1.
Their season was over. But it was a great season that saw the 'Dogs end up ranked 5th in the nation.
Tommy Raffo led the Bulldogs in hitting, batting .358 with 13 home runs and 69 RBI. John Cohen was next at .333 with 8 homers and 71 RBI. Jon Shave, who led the team in steals with 24 of 28 attempts, hit .326 with 3 home runs and 54 RBI. Bobby Reed ended the season with a 15-4 record and an ERA of 3.01. Chris George had a 9-5 record and 4.75 ERA while Tracy Jobes was 8-5 with a 3.75 ERA. In the bullpen, Chuck Daniel was 5-2 with 6 saves and a 2.66 ERA, while Jon Harden was 5-0 with 3 saves and a 2.21 ERA. The team hit .312 and averaged 7.9 runs per game and the pitching ERA was 3.78.
Raffo was selected All-American as well as All-SEC. He was joined by John Cohen and Bobby Reed on the All-SEC team.
In the MLB draft six players were picked - Reed (3rd round), Shave (5th), Raffo (8th), Jim Robinson (21st), Cohen (22nd) and Tom Quinn (35th). Five of the six signed, including juniors Reed and Robinson. Quinn was the only one who didn't.
With one starting position player and only one SEC starting pitcher returning, things didn't look good for the 1991 ball club.
And knowing he needed immediate help, Polk went out and secured the 3rd best recruiting class in the nation. And it would have probably been 1st if not for the loss of four signees to the pros. The additions to the Bulldog squad included hard-throwing Jay Powell, Ricky Joe Redd, Scot Hollingsworth, Matt Carpenter, Ron Brown, Brad Burckel, Drew Williams, Bryan Triche, Paul Petrulis, Gary Butterworth and Clint Allen. Lost to the pros were Todd Ritchie (1st round, $308,000 bonus), Adam Hyzdu (1st round, $300,000 bonus), Jeff Duncan (4th round) and Steve Gibralter (6th round). Powell was drafted in the 11th round, but turned down a six-figure amount. Matt Carpenter, a 21st rounder, and Ron Brown, a 6th rounder, chose to stick with the Bulldogs. Petrulis and Burckel were also highly touted signees who weren't drafted due to signability issues.
The Bulldogs came into the year a young, inexperienced group, but it was something that Coach Polk did that garnered most of the attention in 1991. During the middle of the season, he decided it was time to resign.
All thanks to the NCAA and the rules it was putting in that, according to Polk, was "killing baseball."
Because of new NCAA legislation that would cut out graduate assistants completely, cut full-time coaches from three to two, allow one part-time coach who could only make $12,000 per year, cut scholarships by 10% to 11.7 from the 13.0 that schools could now give out, and cut the time allowed for practices to no more than 20 hours per week, Polk had agreed to resign as MSU's baseball coach and take over the job of executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) in an effort to get the rules reversed.
The Bulldog nation was shocked to its foundation because of the news.
An outpouring of support by way of letters and phone calls begged him to stay. And they slowly started getting through to him. After thinking about it for about two weeks, he decided to remain at Mississippi State.
With the decision to stay, he could now get back to what he loved to do and that was coach baseball.
Despite the youth of the team, they were having a very good season with a 30-14 record when he decided to stay around. Through the rest of the regular season they wound up going 8-3 to make their record 38-17 going into SEC Tournament play.
They split their four SEC Tourney games, which made their record 40-19, good enough to get them into the NCAA Regionals for the 5th straight year and 8th in the last 9 seasons. But unlike the past 6 tournaments they played in, they would not host this one. Instead they were sent to the Northeast Regional in Onro, Maine.
After winning their first two games, they lost the next two to Clemson and Maine, ending a season that was expected to be a rebuilding year. Instead, they simply reloaded and ending up going 42-21 and ranked 22nd nationally.
MSU was led at the plate by freshmen like Steve Hegan (7-48, .310), Paul Petrulis (4-25, .298), and veterans who played part-time such as walk-ons Jimmy Gammill (2-23, .374) and Joey Hamilton (4-28, .315). Pitching leaders were sophomore B.J. Wallace (10-5, 3.78), junior Chris George (7-3, 4.68) and junior Tom Quinn (6-5, 4.99), freshman Jay Powell (4-2, 10 S, 1.28) and junior Jon Harden (6-3, 1 S, 2.96). The team hit .285, scoring 6.8 runs per game. The team ERA was 3.77.
Jay Powell and Charlie Anderson wound up making All-SEC.
One player, Chris George, was drafted (35th round) and chose to sign.
A solid nucleus was returning for the 1992 season, including 7 position players and all but one pitcher who contributed significantly in the previous season.
Plus, Polk added a solid recruiting class that was ranked 9th in the nation - Carlton Loewer (7th rounder), Kyle Kennedy, Blake Mayo, Nat Harden (Jon's younger brother), Gary Rath, Brian Clark, David Marsland and Logan Deford. Also signing with the Bulldogs was Chris Seelbach, but he was drafted in the 4th round and elected to go pro out of high school.
There were high expectations for the 1992 squad, with a preseason national ranking as high as 4th in the country.
But the 'Dogs didn't live up to those lofty expectations and wound up with a solid but unspectacular 40-22 record, which included hosting an NCAA Regional.
After winning the first two games in the regional, they lost the next two, ending their season ranked 21st in the nation.
The team hit .268, scoring 5.6 runs per game. And only one player hit above .300, Paul Petrulis with a .338 batting average.
But the team ERA was an outstanding 3.22. B. J. Wallace led the way with a 9-3 record and a 2.69 ERA. Reliever Jon Harden, who appeared in an amazing 63% of the 62 games, was 8-3 with 8 saves and an ERA of 1.96 (his ERA led the SEC). Despite a fastball that was only in the high 70's to low 80's, he struck out an amazing 108 batters in 91.2 innings. Jay Powell, the closer the previous year, was used as a reliever/starter and he didn't fare as well in that role, going 4-3 with a 3.44 ERA. The two highly thought of freshmen did ok for their first season - Kyle Kennedy was 3-3 with a 2.69 ERA while Carlton Loewer was 5-5 with a 5.54 ERA. Gary Rath, a freshman who wasn't as highly thought of as the other two, also performed well, going 4-0 with an ERA of 4.13.
Wallace and Harden earned All-American and All-SEC honors. Rex Buckner and Paul Petrulis also were named to the All-SEC team.
Three players were drafted (all signed) - junior B. J. Wallace (1st round), Chuck Daniel (20th), Charlie Anderson (44th).
Once again, a solid group of players were returning for 1993, including pitchers Kyle Kennedy, Jay Powell, Carlton Loewer, Gary Rath and David Marsland as well as position players Ricky Joe Redd, Ron Brown, Rex Buckner, Matt Carpenter, Steve Hegan, Paul Petrulis and Drew Williams.
Another excellent recruiting class would add depth - Blake Anderson, juco Jerry Dupuy, David Hayman (43rd round draft selection), Todd Stanley (45th round), Scott Tanksley (42nd round).
The 'Dogs came into the season once again ranked as high as 4th in the preseason polls. And they started the season off like you would expect from a 4th ranked team - winning 16 of their first 18. And that streak put them No. 1 in the polls for a couple of weeks. Starting pitchers Carlton Loewer (4-0), Kyle Kennedy (3-0) and Gary Rath (4-0) were a combined 11-0.
But State then lost 5 of 6 (3 of the losses were by one run). Then they went on a 12-2 streak that put their record at 29-8. A four-game losing streak that included two games lost by 1 run put them at 29-12. The 'Dogs then went on a 9-3 run before losing their final two regular season games.
Going into the SEC Tournament, they had a 38-17 regular season record. And eight of their 17 losses were by one run.
After losing the opening day game to Arkansas by a score of 5-2, the Bulldogs reeled off three wins before losing in the championship game to LSU 7-3.
State advanced to NCAA Regional play (MSU's 7th straight regional), but lost in two straight (a first for a Ron Polk coached team), ending their season at 41-21 and a final ranking of 25th in the nation. What started out with great expectations once again ended in disappointment.
Five players ended up hitting better than .300 - Rex Buckner (7-36, .349), Ron Brown (11-44, .342), Steve Hegan (6-29, .335), Drew Williams (8-52, .319), and Ricky Joe Redd (13-50, .315). Overall, the team hit .298 and scored an average of 6.4 runs per game.
Pitching-wise Gary Rath was 7-5 with a 2.97 ERA, followed by Carlton Loewer with a 9-3 record and 3.07 ERA. David Marsland was 6-0 with a 4.31 ERA and teams only hit .153 against him. Scott Tanksley was 5-0 with 4 saves and a 3.06 ERA. Jay Powell, who started the season in the bullpen moved to a starting role when Kyle Kennedy went down with an elbow injury, was 3-6 with 7 saves and a 3.56 ERA. The team ERA was 3.74.
Carlton Loewer, Paul Petrulis, and Ricky Joe Redd all earned All-American and All-SEC honors. Rex Buckner also was selected All-SEC.
For the second straight year, MSU had a first round selection - Jay Powell. Also selected in the draft were Paul Petrulis (8th round), Ron Brown (24th round) and Ricky Joe Redd (48th round). All but Redd signed.
Although the 1994 team returned several key hurlers - Carlton Loewer, Gary Rath, Kyle Kennedy and Scott Tanksley - only four starting position players returned - Scott Davidson, Jeff Mackin, Ricky Joe Redd and Drew Williams.
Polk once again brought in a highly touted signing class - Brian Harris (45th round draftee), David Hooten, Brian Pepper (45th round), Mitch Pounds, Mark Power, Brian Shumaker, and Rusty Thoms. One player who never made it to campus was high draft pick Kirk Pressley, a football signee. After being drafted, he chose to sign a pro contract a couple of weeks prior to classes.
Despite the loss of key personnel, State came into the season ranked as high as 10th in the nation.
But they quickly fell out of the polls after a 11-10 start to the season. The team never seemed to recover and wound up with a 36-23 overall record and out of NCAA Regional play for the first time in 8 years ... and also out of the final polls.
Polk's team have normally been good fielding teams, but the '94 edition had 2 or more errors in 18 of the 23 losses.
Hitting-wise the team did ok with 5 regulars hitting .300 or better. Leading the group was Ricky Joe Redd with a .324 average to go along with 6 home runs and 43 RBI. Others hitting over .300 were Brian Clark (4-30, .307), Jeff Mackin (0-30, .306), Scott Tribolet (8-35, .306) and Drew Williams (16-69, .300). Overall, the team hit .275 and scored 6.5 runs per game.
Leading the pitchers was Gary Rath with a 10-3 record and 1.71 ERA. Teams only hit .191 against him. Scott Tanksley was 2-3 with 13 saves and a 3.49 ERA. Carlton Loewer wound up 7-5 with a 4.63 ERA while Kyle Kennedy, who suffered a strained forearm during the season, was 4-5 with a 4.09 ERA.
Gary Rath was chosen All-American and All-SEC, the only Bulldog to earn either honor.
Draft-wise, for the third straight year, MSU had a No. 1 draft choice - Carlton Loewer. Also selected in the MLB draft were Gary Rath (2nd round) and Kyle Kennedy (44th round). Kennedy elected to come back while Loewer and Rath signed pro contracts.
The Bulldogs' pitching staff was hit pretty hard due to the draft, but six position players returned for the 1995 season. And the nation's No. 1 ranked recruiting class brought in some very talented newcomers including Dustin Dabbs (10th round selection), Eric DuBose (6th round), Brad Freeman (4th round), Rob Hauswald (18th round), Jeremy Jackson, Van Johnson, Richard Lee (61st round), Barry Patton (23rd round), Adam Piatt (10th round) and Scott Polk.
Due to that combination, State was ranked as high as 10th in the preseason polls.
When the young Bulldogs started the season 10-0 it looked like the prediction might be right. But with five true freshmen in the lineup throughout most of the season, these young pups found out very quickly it wasn't going to be so easy to continue their winning ways.
In their next 15 games they would go 7-8. A four-game winning streak gave them hope, but it was quickly followed by 6 losses in 7 game, which put them at 22-14 overall and 5-7 in SEC play. That was followed by another 4-game win streak, and, as before, they went into a tailspin that saw them lose 7 of 8 to go to 27-21. They ended the regular season with a 6-2 run that put them at 33-23, which was not going to be good enough to put them in an NCAA Regional. Winning the SEC Tournament would be the only way to advance to postseason play.
After winning the first game in the SEC Tournament thanks to a 14-strikeout performance by freshman Eric DuBose, the 'Dogs lost to LSU and Alabama and were eliminated, ending the season with a 34-25 record and 11-16 in SEC action. And for the second year in a row, no national ranking was forthcoming.
Although only three players hit better than .300 (two were freshmen), a lot of youngsters received a great deal of experience, including Richard Lee (2-35, .304), Rob Hauswald (6-34, .301), Adam Piatt (1-17, .261) and Brad Freeman (0-12, .236). The team hit .282 and averaged 6.7 runs per game. Of the 22-man SEC traveling roster, 11 players were usually freshmen.
Seniors Kyle Kennedy (9-6, 3.38) and Scott Tanksley (2-3, 7 S, 2.91) led the pitching staff, but several youngsters figured in prominent roles, including freshmen Eric DuBose (8-4, 3.28) and Scott Polk (3-4, 3.99). Junior David Hooten also performed well, going 7-5 with a 4.24 ERA. The team ERA was 3.58.
Only one player made the All-SEC team, David Hayman (17-55, .298).
Two players were drafted - Scott Tanksley (22nd round) and Brian Clark (45th round).
Although State lost a couple of important pieces of the pitching staff in Tanksley and Kennedy, a solid combination of veterans and youngsters returned, including preseason All-American Eric DuBose and David Hooten and Scott Polk. And seven starting position players also returned. So, there was experience at most positions.
A 20th ranked recruiting class brought in a couple of players who would be expected to contribute right away - junior college signees Keith Dilgard and Damian Scioneaux. Others included Brian Wiese, Scott Clark (Will Clark's brother), Kevin Donovan, Sparky Sparkman, and Brian Terry.
Due to so many returning players, MSU was ranked as high as 9th in the preseason polls.
But the team didn't start off like a 9th ranked squad, losing four in a row. They followed that with a seven-game winning streak. After losing 3 of 5, they started a pattern of winning 2 to 4 games, then losing 1. They continued this through the end of the regular season, ending with a 36-20. But they were in the SEC Tournament.
In tournament action, they wound up 1-2. For the first time in three years, they were once again invited to NCAA Regional play. But they were quickly dispatched from the Stanford, CA regional after going 1-2. The team ended the season ranked 24th in the nation.
Six players hit over .300, including Adam Piatt (4-34, .370), Rob Hauswald (16-63, .354), Brian Clark (8-35, .335), Richard Lee (6-55, .322), Blake Anderson (8-44, .311) and Damian Scioneaux (2-20, .310). Overall, the team hit .311 and averaged 7.2 runs per game.
Pitching-wise, State was led by Eric DuBose (10-4, IP 133.1, SO 174, CG 11, ERA 3.09). David Hooten was 8-7 with a 4.79 ERA. Keith Dilgard was the third starter, going 6-4 with a 5.11 ERA. The relievers were Scott Polk (3-5, 3 S, 2.62) and Van Johnson (6-1, 5 S, 3.09). The team ERA was 4.00.
Eric DuBose and Rob Hauswald both earned All-American and All-SEC honors. Joining them on the All-SEC team was Blake Anderson.
Players that were drafted included David Hooten (14th round), Keith Dilgard (18th) and Blake Anderson (23rd). Dilgard decided to come back for his senior season.
With most of the players back, expectations were high for the 1997 team.
Not needing many new faces, Polk brought in four players - Travis Chapman, Justin Estel, Mark Freed (24th round selection) and Matt Ginter (17th round). Although a small class, it wound up being ranked 24th in the nation. Joining the class as walk-ons were Jon Knott and Chris Reinike (USM transfer).
The team was one of the most consistent in the decade. It only had one three-game losing streak during the season and four two-game losing streaks. On the plus side, it had two six-game winning streaks, two five-game winning streaks, three three-game winning streaks and one one-game winning streak.
It made the SEC Tournament, but lost 2 of three. Once again, the 'Dogs were in NCAA Regional play, but as a host team.
The Bulldogs started it off with an 8-5 victory over Ohio State, but a one-run loss to Washington put them in the loser's bracket early in the regioinal.
But they reeled off three straight to win the regional and advance to the College World Series.
A tough 3-2 loss to Alabama put State in the loser's bracket to start the CWS. After defeating UCLA 7-5, the 'Dogs once again lost to Alabama, this time by a score of 9-5. The season was over.
The team wound up 47-21 and ranked 6th in the nation.
A phenomenal ten players hit over .300, including Richard Lee (19-90, .362), Adam Piatt (17-69, .361), Brooks Bryan (6-57, .345), Travis Chapman (3-40, .344), Damian Scioneaux (6-47, .341), Rusty Thoms (4-31, .338), Barry Patton (7-57, .338), Dustin Dabbs (4-27, .320), Brad Freeman (8-49, .311), and Brian Wiese in a part-time role (1-24, .303). The team hit .332 overall and averaged an amazing 9.3 runs per game.
Pitching-wise, Eric DuBose (9-4, 4.32), Jeremy Jackson (9-4, 5.14) and Keith Dilgard (6-1, 6.25) were the three SEC starters, while Van Johnson (5-4, 13 S, 4.21) was the closer in the bullpen. The team ERA was 5.07.
Eric DuBose and Van Johnson both earned All-American and All-SEC honors. Joining them on the All-SEC team were Brooks Bryan and Adam Piatt.
For the 4th time in the decade, MSU had a player drafted in the 1st round - Eric DuBose. Others drafted were Adam Piatt (8th round), Brad Freeman (12th round), Damian Scioneaux (21st) and Jeremy Jackson (47th). Freeman and Jackson were the only two who didn't sign pro contracts.
Ron Polk, for the second time in the decade, retired, this time at the end of the year. And there were no second thoughts this time. The NCAA's attitude toward college baseball had finally taken its toll on the man.
During the season, the stadium was renamed Polk-DeMent Stadium in his honor.
The team was coached by Pat McMahon who took over for Ron Polk when he retired. For the first time in school history, MSU went to back to back College World Series. The team finished 6th in the nation.
On a side note, one of MSU's signees during the 1997 class was current MLB baseball pitcher Roy Oswalt, one of the top pitchers in the major leagues. Oswalt, who added two inches in height and 3 miles per hour to his fastball over the course of a year, chose the pros over MSU when he was offered $500,000 to sign, despite being a 23rd round draft pick.
The team was coached by Pat McMahon. Matt Ginter was drafted in the 1st round, the 5th MSU first-rounder in the 1990's.
Check back Thursday to read about the return of Ron Polk to MSU baseball and his last decade as the MSU head baseball coach - the 2000s.