The 1990s ended with Ron Polk retiring as the head baseball coach at MSU and taking a job in administration at MSU. But two years away from the game made him realize how much he missed it, so he chose to to begin coaching college baseball again. After a couple of years at the University of Georgia where he won the SEC Championship his second year with a 47-22 record, he was called back home to Mississippi State when Pat McMahon left to go to coach at the University of Florida. Polk's first year back was 2002.
Things looked good for the 2002 season thanks to a strong nucleus of players returning, including position players Matthew Brinson, Brent Lewis, Michael Brown, Jason Burkley, Steve Gendron and Matthew Maniscalco and pitchers Jeff Lacher, Chris Young, Joey Collums, Jonathan Papelbon, Tanner Brock and Paul Maholm.
Add in a great recruiting class that included Brett Cleveland, Jamie Gant, Les Dykes (23rd round draftee), Thomas Berkery, Brad Jones, JoJo Haney, Craig Tatum, Jacob Blakeney and Jacob Ociesa and you have the makings of a great club.
The MSU fans bought season tickets in a record number - 5,596. And the pollsters thought highly of the squad as well, ranking them as high as 17th in the preseason polls.
The team started off well enough - going 8-1-1 in their first 10 games. But then lost 7 of their next 10 games. For the next 30 games, the team was 16-14. At the end of the season, State was in dire straits and needed a sweep of the Ole Miss Rebels the last weekend of the regular season to make it to the SEC Tournament. Maholm won the first game of the double header 12-2. Brock also pitched well, defeating Ole Miss 14-5. Sunday's game ended with MSU easily winning 10-5. They were in the tournament and the Ole Miss Rebels weren't.
Things started poorly for the 'Dogs with Alabama defeating them 12-2 in the first game of the tournament. But State came back to win 10-3 over the Georgia Bulldogs. Florida, however, knocked them out of the tournament with a 5-0 shutout. With a record of 34-24-1 and 14-15 in SEC play, the Bulldogs were on the outside looking in when NCAA Regional spots were given out. It was the first time in the last seven years that MSU wasn't invited to the NCAA Regionals. They also failed to be ranked at the end of the season.
State had four players with 100 or more at-bats who hit over .300 - Steve Gendron (2-48, .351), Jon Mungle (8-36, .341), Matthew Brinson (14-71, .316) and Brent Lewis (3-30, .312). The team hit .303 and averaged 7.6 runs per game.
Paul Maholm (10-3, 3.43), Tanner Brock (7-5, 5.04), Chris Young (5-2, 3.67), Joey Collums (3-6, 4.58) and Jonathan Papelbon (3-4, 5 S, 2.92) led the staff. The team ERA was 4.30.
Paul Maholm earned All-American and All-SEC honors, the only Bulldog on either squad.
Two players were drafted - Chris Young in the 18th round and Jonathan Papelbon in the 40th round. Young signed while Papelbon chose to remain at MSU.
Once again, a solid group of players returned - starting position players Matthew Brinson, Matthew Maniscalco, Brent Lewis, Steve Gendron and Jon Mungle. Pitchers returning who pitched significant innings were Paul Maholm, Joey Collums and Jonathan Papelbon.
The recruiting class coming in included Jeff Butts, Joseph Hunter, Casey Hamilton, Alan Johnson, Tyler Jones, Brad Corley (16th round), Brian LaNinfa, Ryan Harbuck, Tyler Scarbrough, Ben Grisham and Brooks Dunn.
State's best ranking in the preseason polls was 11th.
The Bulldogs started the season 9-1-1 and moved up in the rankings to 8th. Going 13-2 in the next 15 games, they earned what would be their highest ranking of the season - 5th. After going 12-12 in the next 24 games, their ranking moved down to 20th in the country. Winning 4 of their last 5, the 'Dogs went into the SEC Tournament on a high note.
State won 2 of 4 in the tournament. Redshirt freshman relief pitcher Jamie Gant won both games over Ole Miss with great performances.
After failing to make the NCAA Regionals the previous season, the Bulldogs were back in the regionals this year. In fact, they were selected to be a host team.
State, behind the pitching of Paul Maholm, won the first game over Middle Tennessee 10-4 in front of 10,284 fans. They came up short the next day against North Carolina 10-5, forcing an elimination game against Missouri later that night. The 'Dogs won that game 10-5, but came up short once again the next day against North Carolina 8-6 in 11 innings before a crowd of 7,374 Bulldog faithful. Their season was over.
State ended the season 42-20-1 and 17-12 in SEC action. Their final ranking was 19th in the nation.
Six batters hit better than .300 - Matthew Maniscalco (7-42, .338), Steve Gendron (1-35, .333), Brad Corley (1-36, .321), Jeff Butts (0-14, .313), Matthew Brinson (8-49, .311) and Craig Tatum (6-33, .302). The team hit .304 and scored 6.6 runs per game.
Pitching leaders were Paul Maholm (9-2, 2.76), Alan Johnson (5-5, 4.77), Jeff Lacher (6-0, 3.61), Todd Nicholas (5-4, 4.47), Jamie Gant (6-1, 1 S, 1.15), and Jonathan Papelbon (6-2, 7 S, 2.28). The team ERA was 3.58.
Paul Maholm once again earned All-American and All-SEC honors. Steve Gendron and Matthew Maniscalco were also selected All-SEC.
State had 8 players drafted - Paul Maholm (1st round), Jonathan Papelbon (4th), Matthew Maniscalco (8th), Matthew Brinson (13th), Steve Gendron (14th), Todd Nicholas (21st), Jacob Blakeney (22nd) and Jon Mungle (23rd). Gendron, Nicholas and Mungle were the only ones who didn't go pro.
State returned 7 of 9 position player starters, but lost a couple of key pitchers including 1st round selection Paul Maholm and 4th round selection Jonathan Papelbon.
The recruiting class consisted of Justin Pigott, Jeffrey Rea, Bunky Kateon, Josh Johnson, Jeremiah Boling, Todd Doolittle, Eric Ebers, Trent Hill, Michael Rutledge (40th round selection), Jesse Carver, and Andy Wilson.
State's best preseason ranking was 30th.
The Bulldogs started the season with a bang winning 12 of 14. But over the course of the next 22 games, the 'Dogs were 10-12. After winning 5 of 6, they hit a bad spell again where they lost six in a row. What made that so bad was the fact that they were all SEC games. They ended the season on a high note with 6 victories in the last 7 regular season games, but the damage had been done earlier, causing the team a come up short for the SEC Tournament, a first for MSU.
Despite not making the SEC Tourney, State was still chosen to play in the Atlanta NCAA Regional. But they wound up losing 2 of 3, thus ending their season. The team ended up unranked in the national polls.
State was led in hitting by Brad Corley (19-55, .380), Craig Tatum (13-60, .325), Jeffrey Rea (2-32, .324), Joseph Hunter (3-39, .311), Tyler Scarbrough (1-16, .308) and Steve Gendron (4-36, .304). The team hit .310 and scored 6.4 runs per contest.
The pitching leaders were Saunders Ramsey (7-2, 4 S, 3.50), Todd Doolittle (3-2, 4.01), Josh Johnson (5-1, 4.06), Jeff Lacher (5-6, 4.08), Alan Johnson (3-4, 5.65) and Jamie Gant (4-6, 5.84). The team ERA was 4.47.
Brad Corley earned All-American and All-SEC honors. Also making the All-SEC team was Craig Tatum.
State had 6 players drafted - Craig Tatum (3rd round), Steven Gendron (13th), Jeff Lacher (24th), Jamie Gant (37th) and Jon Mungle (44th) and Saunders Ramsey (55th). Gant, Mungle and Ramsey chose not to sign.
State returned a solid nucleus of players including Brad Corley, Jeffrey Rea, Joseph Hunter, Alan Johnson, Jamie Gant, Saunders Ramsey and Josh Johnson.
The recruiting class ranked 17th in the nation. Included among the group were Edward Easley, Chad Crosswhite, Mitch Moreland, Jeff Flagg, Matt Richardson and John Lalor.
The team was ranked 28th in the nation heading into the season.
State started the year in great fashion, winning 17 of their first 20 games. They followed that with a four-game losing streak, then they went on a 11-4 run, giving them an overall record of 28-11. After going through another 4-game tailspin, they ended the regular season with a run that gave them a 36-21 overall record.
And they continued the excellent play going 5-0 in the SEC Tournament to win it and guarantee themselves a spot in the NCAA Regionals.
Earning a spot in the NCAA Regional in Miami, Florida, the 'Dogs won their first game 13-2 against Florida Atlantic, but then lost to the home team Miami 4-1. Once again they defeated Florida Atlantic, this time 8-4. But like before they lost to Miami, but by a score of 10-4. Their season had come to an end.
The Bulldogs ended the season 42-22 overall and 13-16 in SEC play. Their final national ranking was 19th.
Team leaders in hitting were Joseph Hunter (1-31, .348), Brad Corley (5-40, .316), Jeffrey Rea (2-34, .305), Thomas Berkery (7-55, .302) and Brad Jones (5-37, .301). The team hit .297 and scored 6.0 runs per game.
Brett Cleveland led the Bulldog pitching in ERA with 1.96. His won-loss record was 2-1 and he had 5 saves. Jon Crosby (5-3, 3.54), Todd Doolittle (5-8, 3.72), Alan Johnson (5-6, 4.15) and Brooks Dunn (6-3, 4.50) were the key starters on the team. The team ERA was 3.51.
No player made All-American or All-SEC.
State had 5 players drafted - Brad Corley (2nd round), Jamie Gant (29th), Brooks Dunn (43rd), Thomas Berkery (46th) and Joseph Hunter (48th). Dunn, Berkery and Hunter chose not to sign, although Berkery ultimately signed with the team that drafted him a few days prior to the 2006 MLB draft.
Key players returning were Edward Easley, Joseph Hunter, Jeffrey Rea, Thomas Berkery, Jeff Butts, Brad Jones, Brian LaNinfa, Brooks Dunn, Brett Cleveland, Michael Valentine, John Lalor and Jon Crosby.
State had the 31st best recruiting class in the nation. The signees included Ricky Bowen, Ryan Duffy, Nick Hardy, Cade Hoggard, Drew Hollinghead, Jared Koon, Matt Lea, Andy Rice (48th round), Russ Sneed, Brandon Turner and Aaron Weatherford.
State's best ranking in the preseason polls was 13th.
But they started the season like a team much, much better than 13th by winning 18 in a row. And one poll liked what the saw so much they made Mississippi State their No. 1 ranked team. But after winning 5 of 6 games against their first two SEC opponents, the Bulldogs didn't fare as well against their next five SEC teams, losing all five series to Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, Arkansas and South Carolina. Three of the five were ranked among the top 15 in the nation when State played them. After going 18-0 to start the season, the 'Dogs were now 30-15 and 9-11 in the SEC. State continued to play poorly and ended their regular season at 35-21 (12-17 in SEC play) and out of the SEC Tournament, the 2nd time in the last three years that had happened. Of their 17 SEC losses, 11 were by 1 or 2 runs.
Due to their tough schedule, the Bulldogs were still selected to play in an NCAA Regional, being assigned to the Clemson regional. State lost their first game to Elon by one run, 5-4, but came back strong and won their next two by scores of 5-4 and 12-3.
Host Clemson, the top national seed, was their next opponent. With three runs in the 7th, Clemson took the lead and wound up defeating the Bulldogs 8-6, ending their season with a record of 37-23 and unranked in any poll. Clemson and State would meet again the next season, but it would be in Starkville instead of Clemson.
Leading hitters on the team were Thomas Berkery (7-44, .383), Jeffrey Rea (2-27, .372), Edward Easley (4-42, .336), Mitch Moreland (5-23, .319), Jeff Butts (7-45, .316), Brian LaNinfa (10-46, .304). The team hit .308 and averaged 7.3 runs per game.
Team leaders in pitching were Brooks Dunn (8-6, 4.40), Justin Pigott (7-1, 1.66), Josh Johnson (4-4, 5.96), Matt Lea (5-1, 2.01), Aaron Weatherford (5-2, 2 S, 4.28) and Brett Cleveland (1-1, 5 S, 4.38). The team ERA was 4.22.
Thomas Berkery made All-American and All-SEC honors. Jeffrey Rea also earned All-SEC.
State had 3 players drafted - Brooks Dunn (23rd), Joseph Hunter (25th), and Jeffrey Rea (33rd). One of the three, Rea, chose not to sign.
State returned starters Edward Easley, Brian LaNinfa, Jeffrey Rea, Andy Rice, Mitch Moreland and Michael Rutledge. Only a couple of key pitchers were not back.
State's No. 26 ranked recruiting class included Jet Butler, Mark Goforth, Jarred Holloway (49th), Greg Houston, Jason Nappi, Connor Powers, Ryan Powers, Brent Tanner, Jared Wesson and Tyler Whitney.
State's best ranking in the preseason polls was 27th.
The 'Dogs started the season with a 21-7 record. They continued playing well throughout the season until the loss of Brandon Turner, their leading hitter, to a hamstring pull. Partly due to his injury, they ended the regular season losing 6 of 8 - all six losses were by either 1 or 2 runs. Next up for the Bulldogs was the SEC Tournament.
Although State lost both of their games in the SEC Tournament, they played very well, losing them by scores of 3-1 to No. 18 ranked Ole Miss and 3-2 to No. 1 ranked Vanderbilt.
State was then sent to the NCAA Regional in Tallahassee to face Florida State, the No. 6 national seed. After defeating Stetson in the first game 6-3, the 'Dogs' next opponent was the host team, Florida State. A brilliant game by Pigott with help from Weatherford gave the Bulldogs a 3-0 win and put them in the driver's seat for the regional championship. Florida State won the elimination game and was set to face MSU again the next day. Senior Josh Johnson was up to the task and won the game 9-4.
With the victory, the Bulldogs were chosen to host their first-even Super Regional. The opponent was, you guessed it, Clemson, the team that had ended State's 2006 season.
In two hard-fought games State came out on top of both by scores of 8-6 and 8-5 before Super Regional record crowds of 12,620 and 13,715. The victories sent the Bulldogs to the College World Series for the first time since 1998.
In a close first game at the CWS, the 'Dogs lost to North Carolina 8-5. Then, in an elimination game, they lost to Louisville 12-4, ending their season.
State wound up the season with an overall record of 38-22 and 15-13 in SEC play, which was the 4th best SEC record. Against team ranked among the top 25 they were 11-8. And against teams that were ranked among the top 10, they were 10-6.
Team leaders in hitting were Brandon Turner (3-48, .399), Edward Easley (12-63, .358), Mitch Moreland (10-62, .343), Jeffrey Rea (1-22, .343), Joseph McCaskill (1-23, .312), Connor Powers (8-37, .306), Brian LaNinfa (5-43, .301). The team hit .316 and scored 7.00 runs per game.
The leading pitchers were Chad Crosswhite (8-5, 4.69), Justin Pigott (7-7, 4.51), Josh Johnson (3-3, 6.02), Aaron Weatherford (3-2, 5 S, 3.53), John Lalor (3-1, 3 S, 4.17), Tyler Whitney (5-1, 5.72) and Ricky Bowen (5-2, 5 S, 3.00). The team ERA was 4.86.
Edward Easley made All-American and All-SEC honors. He also won the Johnny Bench Award, an award that signifies that he was the top catcher in the collegiate ranks. Brandon Turner also earned All-American. Jeffrey Rea also made the All-SEC team.
State had 4 players drafted - Edward Easley (1st-S), Josh Johnson (16th), Mitch Moreland (17th), and Jeffrey Rea (18th). All four signed pro contracts.
(Will be completed at the conclusion of the season.)
May 17th, 2008 - Ron Polk's last game as head baseball coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the end of a great era in MSU baseball.