/College World Series Skill is a must, but luck counts, too – witness Mississippi State in ’85

College World Series Skill is a must, but luck counts, too – witness Mississippi State in ’85

If I was asked to choose the winner from the eight candidates – and my house at stake – I would pick State. Vanderbilt, you ask? Vandy is really, really good but I don’t like that whistler. MY theory: Vandy’s team must have been worn out by him over the course of the season. I also saw Vandy lose two of three games in the Nashville Super Regional last year, with a trip for Omaha at stake. This State team is superior to the previous State team. They are better at hitting, pitching and fielding. Arkansas? They are very good. In mid-April, they beat State in three games at Fayetteville. Arkansas has gone 16-8 since then. State is now 19-6. The Bulldogs won five consecutive games and have won 14 of their last 17. College World Series is about being hot at the right moment. The Bulldogs are going to Omaha blazing. This is baseball and not every team wins. Key players get hurt. Wind shifts at the wrong moment. Good players can lose the ball to the sun. Boo Ferriss said that you never know what baseball is like. There are just too many pebbles on the field. Sometimes the ball bounces in the wrong direction.” This is what these eyes saw from the 1985 Mississippi State team. Oh. My. God. The Bulldogs were home to four future Major League players: Jeff Brantley (Will Clark), Rafael Palmeiro (Rafael Palmeiro), and Bobby Thigpen. There were many other outstanding college players. The combined 32-4 score of their one-two pitching starters, Gene Morgan and Brantley, was a record. That’s right, 32 wins and 4 losses. Thigpen would also go on to establish a Major League saves records. He was the closer in the bullpen’s back end. Ron Polk, a college baseball legend, was the coach. All three members of the College Baseball Hall of Fame are Polk, Clark, and Palmeiro. These Bulldogs were incredible. They won 15 of their first 15 games, and were ranked No. They were ranked No. 1 for several weeks. They were world-beaters in Omaha when they arrived. In their first game, they defeated Oklahoma State, 57-game winner, 12-3. They defeated Arkansas 5-4 in round two, then faced off with Texas with Morgan (14-2) on the mound. Morgan pitched flawlessly and State scored two runs in the first. After allowing only one Longhorn hit, he was in control of the fifth inning. It happened. The fifth was led by Doug Johnson for Texas. Morgan threw him an extremely fast ball that went over the left corner, but then veered back to the middle of the plate. Morgan, 34 years old and three days later, said that it was a terrible pitch. Johnson drove a line drive off Morgan’s left ankle. Morgan couldn’t get his glove down in the time allowed. The ball landed in left field. Morgan fell in a heap. It was painful at first. He said, “I thought that I was out of this game for certain.” He was surrounded by players. Polk appeared. Morgan was sprayed with a numbing agent by the trainer. Morgan was able to continue playing after a short gestation. Over the 34 years, Palmeiro, Clark Brantley, Brantley, and Polk all said that this sequence kept State from winning the national baseball championship. This is something that no Division I Mississippi team has ever achieved. Morgan won’t get that far. He said, “Texas was really great, Miami was really excellent.” “But I felt we had something special, all of us did. Morgan was able to get through the inning, and led 5-2 heading into the seventh. Morgan’s ankle? He said, “I couldn’t feel anything.” “It is possible that I felt nervous about putting my left foot on my delivery. I don’t know for certain. I thought I was still pitching OK. They made some good pitches.” The 5-2 lead was beaten by 12-7. The Texas floodgates were opened when a double play ball made a poor hop. Morgan stated, “Who knows what might have happened if the ball hadn’t hit me in my ankle.” “I don’t know. Many speculated. Morgan agreed. “Without a doubt, it changed the pace of the game.” Morgan then said, “But that’s just baseball.” Stuff happens.” Stuff does happen. To win at the CWS level, you have to be very good. It is also important to take a few breaks along the way. The 1985 Bulldogs had a terrible day. The Bulldogs were eliminated by Miami, 6-5, in the eventual national champion. Morgan, 57 years old, said that he still watches these Bulldogs whenever he can. Morgan lives and works in Atlanta and cannot wait to return to see the Bulldogs at Dudy Noble Field. Morgan stated, “They seem like a very special team.” Morgan said that while they don’t have Will and Ralph as their two main players, each player in the team can hit, and when it matters. They just believe that they will hit it hard in crucial situations. Morgan’s advice for these Bulldogs: He said, “Enjoy the moment and take it all in.” “Twenty-three years, you’ll still be able to remember.” There are some memories that are more memorable than others. This State team, 51-13 has the potential to win it all. As it is with baseball, the question is: Will it win? *** Rick Cleveland will be covering the College World Series in Omaha starting Sunday.