The much-anticipated Sunday night showdown between two of college baseball’s biggest brands already happened this year.
On the first day of the season.
Back in February. Back when it wasn’t still clear if COVID-19 was going to wreck their championship pursuits for the second straight season. That’s when Mississippi State and Texas faced off in the State Farm College Baseball Showdown.
So it’s difficult for either squad to recall too many specifics from the Bulldogs’ 8-3 victory four months ago.
But what they know for sure is that they’re in store for a significant test to open the College World Series. And they probably didn’t need a nonconference game to affirm that.
“We’ll play a well-coached team, a blue blood of college baseball,” Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis said. “They’ve always been really great.”
Said Texas junior Zach Zubia: “It’s just going to be a really well-rounded matchup. It’s going to be a fun one, too. They’re great guys, great team. And we’re excited to take the field.”
It should be compelling theater.
That was supposed to be the case back in February, but the circumstances weren’t ideal.
The pandemic disrupted practice. An ice storm forced Mississippi State to share a plane with Mississippi just to get to Arlington, Texas, while the Longhorns were experiencing the effects of that rare winter freeze in their home state.
The Bulldogs jumped to a 5-0 lead that day and finished it out for a win. Texas’ young roster ended up losing its next two games to start 0-3.
“I think that helped us become the team that we are today,” Zubia said. “We learned from our mistakes. We learned what it was going to take to compete with the biggest teams on the biggest stage.”
Now they get their chance to prove it.
Two teams that began the season as top 10 squads have entered the NCAA tournament as top eight national seeds. They’ve both been Omaha regulars lately — the Longhorns are making their fourth CWS appearance since the event moved to TD Ameritrade Park and the Bulldogs are here for the third straight time.
And they’ll be supported by two passionate fan bases that will find their way into the ballpark Sunday.
Mississippi State’s Tanner Allen can’t wait.
The senior outfielder said he’ll take a moment during the game to appreciate the experience.
“I soak it in every second up here,” Allen said. “I’ve been blessed to come here three times. I tell everybody, it gets sweeter and sweeter every time I come here. I tell the young guys, enjoy everything. Enjoy the town. Enjoy watching games and the pregame stuff. Enjoy all the hype because not everybody gets to come.”