There are a lot of things to untangle after Mississippi State's loss in the final game of the College World Series -- there always are when a team comes that close and ends up that short. But one of the things that's important to remember, because apparently our last post on this topic irritated some people, is that UCLA is a good baseball team and deserves the championship they won. Let's not take away from that.
But it's also important to recognize that, to some extent, Mississippi State had no business being here. The Bulldogs were at best the third-best team in the SEC headed into the NCAA tournament, and you could make a case that they were the fifth-best team in the conference. They were not one of the favorites to make it to Omaha. And they had never played in the final game of the college baseball season before. There is literally no reason that this team shouldn't feel immensely proud of what they accomplished, at least after the pain of losing has had time to dissipate.
There's also going to be a lot of talk over the next few weeks, or at least the next few days, about what to do with the fences at TD Ameritrade and the baseballs that the college game uses. And there should be. That's not because Mississippi State lost, nor is it to say that Mississippi State lost because of the fences, though having several should-be home runs die on the warning track doesn't help your chances. But it's an appropriate thing to discuss, and you can do so without taking away from UCLA's accomplishment. They played in the same park. The discussion about getting offense back in the College World Series has more to do with the future of the game than the past of these teams.
And just to review that past for a moment in the case of Mississippi State: They lost one game in the NCAA tournament. One. They made it to Omaha for the first time since 2007 and only the second time in 15 years. And after two disappointing seasons at the beginning of his tenure, John Cohen has now built a program that has gone to the NCAA tournament for three straight years. Mississippi State baseball is back, and sooner or later one of those postseason trips is likely to lead to a trophy.
"This group's special, and what they've done is, they've really helped the future of our program," Cohen said Tuesday night. And he's correct. Teams like this come along every so often, and they can change the trajectory of a program. But the journey is also fun in its own way. And a bittersweet ending doesn't change that. It just provides a little extra motivation to make sure the next journey reaches its preferred destination.