OMAHA, Neb. – When Dustin Skelton rushed home with the game-winning run in Mississippi State’s wild 5-4 walk-off victory over Auburn on Sunday night at the College World Series, the party was on in Omaha.
MSU now can’t afford for the celebration to continue though as there’s more work to be done.
The Bulldogs face Vanderbilt Tuesday night at 6 p.m. at T.D. Ameritrade Park and MSU’s goal, however tough it may be, is to put Sunday’s dramatic triumph in the past and keep moving onward towards a national championship.
“Well, we talked about it (Sunday night),” Mississippi State head coach Chris Lemonis said at MSU’s Monday practice. “(The players were) obviously excited. It was hard to go to sleep for players, coaches and fans, but we didn’t come out here to win one game. That was the message (Sunday) night. Enjoy it, but you can’t get too high and you can’t get too low out here.”
The Bulldogs are familiar with exhilarating wins in Omaha. Just last season – one year to the day from Sunday’s victory – the Bulldogs earned a walk-off victory over Washington. However it didn’t lead to a 2018 title. MSU was headed home less than a week later.
State is determined to not let history repeat itself by not taking advantage of a momentum-building, College World Series-opening win in this trip to Nebraska. The Bulldogs are doing their best to lock in and put Sunday’s celebration behind them so that more await in the days to come.
“(Monday morning) we woke up and everyone was pretty focused,” MSU pitcher Cole Gordon said. “Just waking up and going to practice, no one was really talking about (Sunday night) as much. It’s mentioned every once in a while, but for the most part, we have bigger goals here than winning the first game, so we’ve got to come back and be ready to play (Tuesday).”
Black uniforms work again
Mississippi State’s Most Valuable Player this season might not be anyone on the roster.
Instead, it might be the black uniforms the Bulldogs have worn in their Sunday games this season.
With Sunday night’s win over Auburn, MSU moved to a perfect 10-0 this season when playing in the all-black gear. Interestingly enough, Mississippi State nearly didn’t wear those uniforms Sunday.
The Bulldogs let the starting pitcher have the final say as to which uniform to wear and since Ethan Small had made every start this season in a maroon jersey, he wanted to buck the Sunday tradition. He ultimately caved in though. MSU wore the black uniforms. While Small didn’t quite have the dominant performance he’s used to, it all ended up working out for him and the Bulldogs.
“It was a really hard choice,” Small said of deciding to wear the blacks. “I didn’t want to do it. I really, really didn’t. Everybody (else) wanted to do it, so I was like, ‘If you guys play inspired, and you really want to play in them, I’ll do it,’ but I really didn’t want to. I will never wear these uniforms again ever again in my life. I’m sticking to my maroons from now on.”
Small likely won’t have to ever make that decision again anyway. Barring a rescheduling of some kind, MSU won’t play another Sunday game this season.
Gilbert makes good
Mississippi State third baseman Marshall Gilbert wasn’t happy last year at the College Wold Series as he essentially watched the whole event from the dugout.
He wanted to be involved. He wanted to contribute.
While Gilbert did catch an inning and have a pinch hit appearance in Omaha last season, that was nothing compared to what he did for the Bulldogs on Sunday with his walk-off single that capped State’s four-run ninth inning rally to beat Auburn.
Gilbert was asked after the game if he could have ever imagined he’d be fortunate enough to not only get the chance to get back to Omaha, but provide a game-clinching hit.
“I do try to picture it because last year, I remember having to watch it all from the sidelines and it left me rubbed kind of a little bit the wrong way,” Gilbert said. “I would say that I would basically dream about it every night – trying to get back here and trying to go out there and make the plays that I’m able to make and not worry about results and just be able to leave it all on the field this time.”
There are still games to play in Omaha, but for Gilbert, his mission of being a big part of this Bulldog team on college baseball’s big stage has been accomplished.