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Shatel: 2021 gave us the greatest comeback in College World Series history
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Shatel: 2021 gave us the greatest comeback in College World Series history

Trophy

Mississippi State head coach Chris Lemonis holds up the national championship trophy after a win over Vanderbilt in the College World Series.

The path to the CWS title series for Mississippi State and Vanderbilt

It’s the greatest comeback in College World Series history.

The rally began on a sun-splashed Saturday with a rocket blast to right field in the third at-bat of the series.

Then came a breathless 12-inning walk-off win by Vanderbilt.

That started the trend for brilliant pitching and clutch hitting, teams digging deep. No lead too safe.

Five outs from a rare CWS no-hitter turned into a five-run eighth inning and suddenly a game was turned upside down and a stadium shook its head.

On and on it went, until the rally was capped Wednesday night by an honest-to-goodness Dawgpile. Hail Mississippi State, hail the new CWS champs.

It was the College World Series that had everything, including the stunning news that North Carolina State had been sent home after a COVID outbreak on the team.

And the fans. Oh, the fans.

Three CWS attendance records were set: 361,711 total for the series, 72,266 for the three-game championship series and 24,052 for Game 3.

People were hungry for their CWS. And none more famished than the good folks from Starkville, Mississippi.

Terrific baseball. Historic fans. And confetti falling on a CWS blue blood with not just its first CWS title, but the first national championship in school history — in any sport.

History happens here. A lot happened at the 2021 CWS.

Greatest CWS? It’s hard to say. Maybe without the unfortunate NC State story.

After a year away from Omaha’s signature event, we couldn’t escape the reminder of the pandemic.

Still, it was much-needed food for the soul. One heck of a comeback story.

Nobody was sure how this series was going to work. If it would work.

College baseball had a tough year, players and coaches battling through the pandemic, masks and tests, some games canceled, an uneven NCAA tournament bracket.

Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin, who wasn’t in a celebratory mood, called this CWS a “celebration of baseball.”

Corbin lauded the NCAA for showing the sport could bring back all the fans.

Those crowds came back en force, and they peaked this week with 15,000 to 20,000 MSU fans taking over TD Ameritrade Park and producing the loudest noises the park has heard in its 10-year history.

Fans

Fans play with beach ball in the outfield stands during the third and final game of the CWS championship series.

The NC State situation shined a light on those crowds, and the mixed message of letting folks back in and allowing them to interact with players — then sending one of the teams home after several players contracted COVID.

It was too bad. This CWS brought the goods, but that regret will always be part of this series’ legacy.

And though some wondered if there would be an asterisk to this CWS title, that’s not how it worked this past year. All of the champions in all the sports were ones who dealt with the pandemic the best they could, and had some fortune, too.

There's no asterisk. Just the overwhelming Mississippi State baseball team.

After losing the first game to Vanderbilt, the Bulldogs took the title. They earned it. Plain and simple, on the game's biggest stage they made all the plays, the pitches and the big hits.

Their school’s heritage adds credibility to this CWS series. Mississippi State is a true CWS blueblood. This was the school’s 12th CWS all time, dating to 1971.

Will Bednar

Mississippi State's Will Bednar pitches in during the third and final game of the CWS championship series.

And CWS vets will always remember the story of the 1985 Dawgs, the Will Clark-Rafael Palmeiro team, called the most talented team in CWS history.

That team was rolling toward the title that year when their fate did an about-face thanks to a Texas line drive off pitcher Gene Morgan.

On Wednesday night, it was the Bulldogs sending the line drives up the middle off Vandy, 12 hits total, and six off Kumar Rocker, the 2019 CWS hero who has been so good for so long.

With 1985 coach Ron Polk and Palmeiro in the audience, the names Rowdey Jordan, Tanner Allen, Logan Tanner and Will Bednar will take their rightful place in Bulldog lore.

Now MSU separated itself from Kansas State and Virginia Tech as the only Power Five schools without a national championship in any sport.

It’s so appropriate that the first came in baseball, a sport of passion and heritage in Stark Vegas.

Just look around the park. All that maroon. And white. Back and forth, the chants went. As the bats cranked up, the noise levels rose. College football noises.

Mississippi State baseball noises.

There has not been a crowd like this in CWS history. LSU fans have their place in our hearts, but they never had these numbers. MSU fans were a force of nature.

Finally, somebody found a way to drown out the Vandy Whistler.

Never before has the CWS seen that kind of fan base cheer on its team winning a national championship.

It was an amazing, powerful thing.

While the championship series didn’t produce classic games, we had classy CWS championship programs on the field. Root against the Whistler if you will. But applaud the great Vandy players and program.

They’ll be back. So will the OmaDawgs and all those maroon fans.

Their electricity lit up the CWS and their passion reminded everyone what we have here, why we love it, why we have to have it, and answered the question of the year.

Is the CWS back? Hail, yes.


Omaha World-Herald: Local Sports

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