OMAHA, Neb. – Chris Lemonis did a tremendous job of running Indiana's baseball program from 2015 to 2018, making three NCAA Tournaments. And when he was stolen away by Mississippi State three years ago, the Bulldogs faithful were confident they got a good one.
There's no doubt about that now.
Lemonis led his team to another Super Regional title over Notre Dame on Monday, punching Mississippi State's ticket to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. He did the same thing in 2019, during his first season.
And now he's two-for-two.
"It's a big relief just getting into Omaha, and being the last ticket out there. When you're sitting around all day, you know the whole country is watching. I've been blessed to be there many times, but I wanted these guys to play in Omaha. That's why you come here. It's a relief, but we've got work still to do. And that's what we challenged our guys with afterward.
"We have to go out there and play at a high level, and we've got to get our kids focused on that. Everyone we play out there is playing at a high level, too.''
Mississippi State is 45-16 on the season, and one of three SEC teams in the eight-team field in Omaha. The Bulldogs, the No. 7 overall seed, will open play on Sunday night against No. 2 seed Texas, who has won five straight games so far in the NCAA Tournament.
Mississippi State is 5-1 thus far in the NCAAs, sweeping the regional with wins over Samford, VCU and Campbell, and winning two of three from Notre Dame in the Super Regional, wrapping up the title with an 11-7 win on Monday in front of 11,754 fans at Dudy Noble Field in Starkville, the largest on-campus baseball field in the NCAA.
Yes, you read that right. Attendance was 11,754.
"It's pretty special (winning at home). When you look up and see what these guys have done in their career, it was really special, with that never-say-die attitude,'' Lemonis said. "We want to go to Omaha and you want to win it, but you almost have to host. We have the best fans in the country, and it's not even close. They're all still sitting out there.
"This is what they live for, and it's why we have a stadium like this. It's because of the fan base, and what's been happening around here for 25 or 30 years. It's special to be a part of, and I never take it for granted being able to coach here. it's an honor, and every day we come to work, it's an honor to be a part of this tradition.''
Lemonis, like every other college baseball coach in the country, has talked about how long this season has been. COVID knocked out the 2020 season just as it was getting started, and daily protocols have been this year long and difficult.
"This was probably one of the hardest years of my career, and not because of wins and losses,'' Lemonis said. "The COVID piece has just been crazy all year long, just in you're always kind of worried about it and going through all those protocols and traveling in different busses.
"The fall was just so different. As coaches, we love to control everything, but this year a lot was on the players, and our guys were very responsible and did a great job of handling themselves. It's all worth it once you get to this point and you're playing well. When you sit in that dugout and hug my coaches and I see how excited they are, butthen you see kids going for the first time, that's great.''
Mississippi State has made three straight College World Series trips. When Lemonis guided them there in his first season, the Bulldogs won 52 games, an SEC record for a first-year coach. He's the first coach in SEC history to advance to the CWS in each of his first two seasons.
"You know how special it is because not many kids get to play in Omaha. Some have played three years, but some are going for the first time,'' he said. "People always ask me what our goal is, and of course it's to win a national championship, but it's always to host, and be a national seed. We want to win the SEC, we want to win the SEC Tournament.
"The expectation in that clubhouse, especially from the older guys, is this is where you're supposed to be. This is where Mississippi State is supposed to be, and if we don't go, it's a disappointment. It's not like that everywhere in the country. There's high expectations for coaches, and high expectations for players, too. It's exciting, and I'm thankful for the older guys. They've done a tremendous job of leading this team in the locker room, but also on the field.''
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- NCAA REGIONAL RESULTS: Here are all the scores from the first two weekends of the tournament, including the 16 regionals and eight Super Regional sites. CLICK HERE
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