There is going to be more than a passing interest for the baseball College World Series in DeSoto County when the annual tournament to determine the best college team in the country starts.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs (51-13) will carry the hopes of the Magnolia State between the lines of TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha when it opens against SEC rival Auburn (38-26) Sunday evening.
Game time is 6:30 p.m., and ESPN2 will carry the broadcast.
When the Bulldogs take the field Sunday evening, no less than six players with DeSoto County or Magnolia Heights School pedigree will be on the roster looking to bring the trophy back home.
The group includes two players from Lewisburg, two from DeSoto Central and two more from Magnolia Heights.
The Lewisburg players are senior right handed pitcher Peyton Plumlee and freshman left handed thrower and outfielder Bryce Brock.
From DeSoto Central will come right handed pitcher and redshirt junior Keegan James, along with right handed pitcher and redshirt junior Spencer Price.
The Magnolia Heights contingent on the Bulldogs’ baseball roster are catcher Dustin Skelton of Olive Branch and Coldwater native and right handed pitcher Riley Self.
A 51-13 record and an appearance in the CWS is not a bad way to start a coaching career in Starkville for first-year head coach Chris Lemonis, who brings a career coaching mark of 192-104-2 to Omaha in his fifth year managing things in the dugout.
Lemonis is the winningest first-year coach in the SEC with his 51 wins as a rookie head coach in a league that has four of the final eight teams coming from the SEC, with Arkansas, Auburn and Vanderbilt being the other three.
It will also be the second-straight time the Maroon and White have been playing in the Big “O,” having qualified under interim coach Gary Henderson last season.
Mississippi State this spring did have the benefit of playing all of its regional and super regional games at the new Dudy Noble Field. That’s where the Bulldogs swept its regional with victories over Southern, Central Michigan and Miami of Florida. State followed that with a two-game sweep of Stanford in the super regional also played in Starkville.
This will be the 11th appearance in the CWS for Mississippi State, which is 12-20 overall playing in Omaha.
Of the coverage area players on the Bulldogs’ roster, Skelton comes in hitting .316 with 10 home runs and 55 RBIs. Plumlee is 7-4 on the mound this year with a 3.67 ERA. From the bullpen, Self is 2-0 with a 4.81 earned run average. James fashioned a 4-1 record on the hill this year with a 5.49 ERA.
"We are not done yet,” Lemonis said. “This group is really player-driven. They have goals. They are still motivated from last year to get back and play the best they can in Omaha."
Left handed pitcher Ethan Small is scheduled to start on the mound for State Sunday evening. Small has a 10-2 record this season with a 1.76 earned run average.
Look for late inning heroics from the Bulldogs if their season statistics hold true to form. State scored a team-high 85 runs in the seventh inning this year and added 83 more in the eighth inning. Defensively, MSU held opponents to a paltry eight runs in the second inning of all 64 games.
When leading after seven innings, MSU is 42-1 and is unbeaten (47-0) when ahead after eight innings of play.
The College World Series starts Saturday with Texas Tech against Michigan at 1 p.m., followed by Arkansas against Florida State at 6:30 p.m. Sunday’s first game of the day is Vanderbilt against Louisville at 1 p.m.
Let the games begin!
SPORTS ETC.: New Memphis Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins is being introduced to fans of the Memphis Redbirds tonight. Jenkins, hired this week to fill the opening when J.B. Bickerstaff was let go about two months ago, will throw out the first pitch of tonight’s game at AutoZone Park. The new coach was an assistant coach for the Milwaukee Bucks before taking on the job of rebuilding the Mid-South’s NBA franchise. Game time is 6:35 p.m. for the Redbirds and the Las Vegas Aviators.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.