OMAHA, Neb. – Just before 2:30 a.m. ET Saturday morning, Mississippi State’s Scotty Dubrule grounded out to Texas shortstop Trey Faltine. The Longhorns’ 8-5 victory was in the books. A very long and very chaotic day was finally over at the College World Series.
The Longhorns and Bulldogs were five outs from the finish when the storm hit. They had to wait 2 ½ hours to get those five outs and make it official – they’d be playing again Saturday. Nobody wanted to say much afterwards. Too tired. “They beat us. We play tomorrow. That's all I've got,” Mississippi State’s Tanner Allen said.
Thing was, the Bulldogs were the second team to lose a game in that same wee half-hour.
The news release from the NCAA came at 2:10 a.m. ET, which is almost never a good sign. Only bad news usually gets officially released that far after midnight. The North Carolina State Wolfpack were done in Omaha. Like VCU at the men’s basketball tournament, Notre Dame in hockey, the Rice women’s volleyball team — knocked out of the running not by defeat, but COVID tests. The signature victims of this virus-plagued year.
OFFICIAL STATEMENT: NC State removed from CWS due to COVID-19
The statement mentioned protocols and regret and the local health department getting involved, and included the last phrase anyone wanted to see . . . No-contest. That’s what Saturday’s North Carolina State-Vanderbilt game had become. They had played an extraordinary contest Friday that was delayed for more than an hour, until it could be decided how many Wolfpack players would be allowed to participate. Turned out to be only 13, in a 3-1 loss to the Commodores that might not have been an instant classic but was an instant something. They were to meet again Saturday afternoon, but then came 2:10 a.m ET, and both teams were suddenly headed different directions: Vanderbilt into the championship finals and North Carolina State back home, without ever getting the last chance at-bat that eliminated teams always have.
So now we know the 2021 College World Series will be remembered for two teams. One is North Carolina State, plucky underdog one moment, COVID casualty the next. The other will be the champion, and they’re still working on that.
Which takes us back to the only game in town Saturday.
Yes, Texas is rolling. Three consecutive wins this week. Plenty of offense, with 22 runs in those three games.
Yes, the Longhorns have displayed the ability to take a punch. They recovered from the 21-strikeout embarrassment in their opening loss to Mississippi State. They have put up with two massively long rain delays — more than six hours total — on successive nights to win both games and become the Late Night Show in Omaha. “I'm sitting there behind the team looking at them, just hoping that they can just engage and get their minds back into finishing this game,” coach David Pierce said. “Nobody's slamming things. Nobody's just frustrated to the point where you feel like you can't overcome it. And I think our team feels that positive vibe.”
Yes, Texas is showing off its tradition. Did everyone notice through all the rain and tumult the gala occasion Friday night? It was the big 1-5-0. As in, the Longhorns’ 150th CWS game. If that sounds like a lot, it is. Next best is USC, way back at 100. It was also Texas’ 88th win, far ahead of the Trojans’ at 74. And it has been often noted how this is the 37th College World Series for Hook ‘em Horns. That’s exactly half of the tournaments ever played.
Yes, momentum is wearing burnt orange in Omaha. Especially after Friday night, when Texas blew a 5-2 lead and then yanked the game back on Ivan Melendez’ three-run homer in the eighth inning.
And yes, in case it’s been forgotten, the No. 2 Longhorns are the highest seed in Omaha.
RECAP: Texas forces Game 3
So all things considered, it’d be hard to pick against these guys, right? But...
Did we mention who Mississippi State will probably be pitching Saturday night?
Will Bednar. When last seen, he was striking out 15 Longhorns in six innings. The reliever who followed him, Landon Sims, struck out six more. Hence, a record 21.
Control problems doomed Mississippi State’s chances Friday night. “We don't throw enough strikes,” coach Chris Lemonis said. “It's hard to beat anybody when you walk 11 guys.”
The good news for Mississippi State is that neither Bednar nor Sims were part of that, and rested for Saturday night. It’ll be up to the Longhorns to adjust and not swing at so much air this time.
The good news for Texas is that it’s supposed to rain. The Longhorns are used to killing time in their locker room. “It's definitely exhausting,” Melendez said. “I feel it every time I wake up in the morning and we’ve got to walk down for breakfast. But I just think the crowd and the energy and all the emotions have us all amped up. I think that's what keeps us going, honestly.”
The good news for Vanderbilt is the Commodores won’t have to leave their hotel to advance. At 1 p.m. they will officially no-contest their way into the finals. The College World Series has seen plenty of weather delays. It has never seen that.