OMAHA, Neb. – Mississippi State’s best baseball season in the program’s rich history came to a close Tuesday night.
Playing before a TD Ameritrade Park record crowd of 27,127, the Bulldogs battled hard before falling in the final game of the championship series at the College World Series. UCLA won its first-ever baseball national championship with an 8-0 victory over MSU.
The Bulldogs dropped both games in the best-of-three championship series, also losing 3-1 to the Bruins Monday night. For MSU, the season ends at 51-20. The Bulldogs won the second most games in program history and advanced to play for the national championship for the first time. The Bulldogs matched a school record by playing a total of 71 games during the 2013 season.
“We knocked on the door,” MSU head coach John Cohen said. “UCLA knocked on the door previously and then busted it down. I am really proud of these players. They worked real hard to get here. Many of these players came here when the program was not in good condition.
“These kids came here off a 23-win season. They brought us all the way to the mountain top. We are disappointed in today and yesterday, but certainly not our body of work for the season. I am so proud of these kids.”
UCLA pitching proved too much for MSU in the championship series. The Bruins allowed only four runs in five College World Series victories and finished with an incredible team ERA of 0.80 in the event.
MSU won its first three games in Omaha for the first time in program history. The Bulldogs knocked off Oregon State twice and Indiana to breeze to the Bracket One championship. The good fortune ran out in the championship series, as the Bulldogs scored only once in 18 innings of play and never led in either game.
“You can’t say thank you enough for what all happened to this team,” MSU junior outfielder Hunter Renfroe said. “This is the closest team I have ever been around. Our fan support is like no other team in the country. We have a lot of special memories. It was an incredible run.”
UCLA junior right-hander Nick Vander Tuig (14-4) pitched eight innings, allowing five hits, with one walk and six strikeouts. Sophomore right-hander David Berg made his record-setting 51st appearance of the season in the ninth inning, as the duo combined to shut out the Bulldogs for only the second time this season.
The Bruins took the lead for good on an unearned run off MSU starting pitcher Luis Pollorena (6-4) in the first inning. Four other Bulldog hurlers followed but the Bruins were not to be denied.
UCLA scored twice in both the third and fourth innings. The Bruins added a single score in the sixth inning and two scores in the eighth inning.
In relief, MSU’s Ross Mitchell was touched for two hits and three runs (all earned) in two innings of work. Ben Bracewell allowed two hits and one run (earned), while managing one out. Jonathan Holder pitched a season-highest four innings, allowing seven hits and three runs (all earned), while Will Cox got the final two outs.
“We weren’t very disciplined at the plate like we had been earlier in the World Series,” MSU shortstop Adam Frazier said. “Give UCLA credit. They really made the pitches. They controlled the games and got their job done. This was the closest team I have ever been around. I consider every player on this team a brother of mine.”
Offensively for UCLA, Eric Filia had two hits and five RBIs. Filia had an RBI-single in the sixth inning and a two-run single in the eighth inning. UCLA broke open the game in the third inning by scoring on a bunt attempt and an RBI-single by Pat Valaika.
Despite a fifth place finish in the Southeastern Conference regular season standings, the Bulldogs won the Starkville Regional and Charlottesville Super Regional to advance to the College World Series for a ninth time ever and first time in Cohen’s five seasons as coach. The Bulldogs last played in the CWS in 2007.
By reaching the title match, the Southeastern Conference has had a participant in the finals for six straight seasons now. National championships during that run included South Carolina twice and LSU once.
“I want to thank the Lord for putting us in a position to get here,” MSU senior pitcher Kendall Graveman said. “I want to thank Omaha for opening their arms to us. We are disappointed in the outcome but we are proud of the season. We did something that no other Mississippi State baseball team has done.”
The Bulldogs are expected to arrive home late Wednesday. A Welcome Back celebration is set for 7 p.m. Thursday night at Dudy Noble Field. Admission will be free and the fans are encouraged to celebrate this magical season with the coaches and players Thursday night.