Jake Mangum sat in the outfield with his head in his hands, the ball from Louisville’s game-winning, RBI single still sitting right next to him in center field.
Elijah MacNamee crouched some 125 feet away in right field, his hands on either side of the brim of his cap and a look of disbelief on his face.
The reaction from two of Mississippi State’s seniors said it all following Louisville’s 4-3 win Thursday night at T.D. Ameritrade Park, a victory that knocked the Bulldogs out of contention in this 2019 College World Series.
It’s fitting that the Bulldogs’ final game came down to the final play. After winning in such dramatic fashion to start their CWS run with a walk-off win over Auburn, they found themselves on the other end of the stick Thursday.
“Great college baseball game,” Bulldog coach Chris Lemonis said. “Tip your hat to Louisville. They got a couple big hits there late, but (I’m) really proud of our guys and the way they played, the way they have fought all year long. It’s just a tremendous group of kids that just would never quit.
“That’s kind of how you had to beat us — on the last swing, because our guys just have that never-die attitude.”
So ends the post-season run of one of the best Mississippi State teams ever — a team that was ranked in the top five nationally for most of the season, won the SEC West, earned a national seed, swept its way through the regional round, then took two straight from No. 3 Stanford in the Super Regional to get here.
When the Bulldogs walked off with the win over Auburn to open this College World Series four days ago, it looked like they were the team of destiny.
The 6-3 loss to Vanderbilt is the game that truly took the wind out of Bulldogs’ sails, but Thursday’s loss to Louisville surely stings more.
State (52-15) had every opportunity to win this one.
Freshman J.T. Ginn was splendid in his first start in Omaha, working six scoreless innings and allowing just four base-runners on three hits and one walk.
The Brandon native came into Thursday’s start having worked just 5 ⅓ innings since the end of the regular season
The Bulldogs took an early lead in the fourth inning with an RBI double to deep center off the bat of Rowdey Jordan that brought home Justin Foscue all the way from first base. Gunner Halter followed with a single to drive in Jordan and give MSU a 2-0 lead.
They added an insurance run three innings later on a Tanner Allen RBI single and carried a 3-0 lead into the seventh-inning stretch.
But Louisville got two runs back in the bottom of the frame after reliever Jared Liebelt issued two walks and an infield single that loaded the bases with nobody out. Drew Campbell drove in one run for the Cardinals (51-17) with an RBI single, and Justin Lavey grounded into a fielder’s choice to score the second one.
Senior closer Cole Gordon held serve in the eighth inning, but walked the leadoff man, Jake Snider, to start the bottom of the ninth, gave him second base on an errant throw on a pickoff attempt and gave up the game-tying single to the next hitter Danny Orient on a 1-2 fastball.
That brought Louisville right fielder Drew Campbell to the plate, and after working a 2-2 count, he turned on a pitch and drove it to the right-center gap.
Mangum tried desperately to field the ball, but there was no play to be made. It was a dispassionate end to a career that has been a leading storyline for four years in the Magnolia State.
In an emotional post-game press conference, the all-time SEC hits leader attempted to sum up his Mississippi State experience.
“I’ve been very fortunate for the last four years,” Mangum said. “God has been very, very good to me for those four years, and they were the best four years of my life. Mississippi State baseball, it’s literally a part of me, you know. I hate it ended this way, but it is what it is. I absolutely hate it for the guys. I really do.”
Mangum is one of five players remaining from a class of 16 that came to Starkville four years ago with plans to bring the school its first national title. The team won four regionals, two super regionals and won three out of seven games at the College World Series while playing under four different head coaches.
“I told the guys after the game,” Lemonis said. “Our goal has been a National Championship, and I told them we didn’t win it this year, but when we do, it’ll be because of the Jake Mangums and the Elijah MacNamees and the Cole Gordons.”