FINAL PIECE OF THE PUZZLE
Baseball America|August 2021
Chris Lemonis earned a reputation as a recruiter, but after winning a national title at Mississippi State, he will be remembered as a champion
TEDDY CAHILL

Mississippi State is one of the biggest programs in college baseball. It’s the alma mater of Thunder and Lightning—Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro—as well as Jake Mangum, the Southeastern Conference’s hit king.

Longtime Mississippi State coach Ron Polk is known as the Godfather of the SEC for the way he brought the show of big-time baseball to the conference. Dudy Noble Field is an iconic venue and the home of the largest on-campus crowds in the college baseball history.

The one thing Mississippi State was always missing, however, was a national championship.

From the time Chris Lemonis was hired as head coach following the 2018 season—when the Bulldogs made a Cinderella run to the final four of the College World Series under interim head coach Gary Henderson—he has never run from the program’s championship expectations.

This year, in his third season at the helm, Lemonis and the Bulldogs made good on them. Mississippi State fended off Texas in the bracket final to reach the College World Series championship series against Vanderbilt. After losing Game 1 in the best-of-three series, the Bulldogs stormed back to twice rout the Commodores, 13-2 and 9-0, to win the national championship.

It was not only the baseball program’s first national title, but also the first for a team sport in Mississippi State history.

Nearly a month later, Lemonis said the national championship remained a surreal feeling.

“When you have it sitting over your heads like that (facing elimination in Games 2 and 3 of the finals), I told them, ‘You have to do something special,’ ” Lemonis said. “Having to face Kumar Rocker in the last game, that’s about as tough as it gets.”

The path to a national championship is never easy, and Mississippi State had plenty of challenges along the way. It was swept at home early in the season by Arkansas in a marquee matchup pitting No. 1 versus No. 2.

The Bulldogs lost a home series to last-place Missouri on the second-to-last weekend of the regular season, costing them a shot at the conference title. Two weeks later, Mississippi State was swept out of the SEC Tournament, hit with back-to-back embarrassing losses. In the NCAA Tournament, they faced four elimination games and won them all.

Mississippi State’s run to the national championship was a testament to the culture Lemonis fostered in Starkville and the team he built.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM BASEBALL AMERICAView All

MAKING AN IMPRESSION

Four draft classes that caught our attention for their upside potential

5 mins read
Baseball America
August 2021

RARE AIR

Whether hitting or pitching, Jackson Jobe does things on the field that few have seen

5 mins read
Baseball America
August 2021

KIRBY'S DREAM WORLD

George Kirby has as much helium as any prospect in baseball. Along with Emerson Hancock, he headlines a wave of power pitchers making their way to Seattle.

9 mins read
Baseball America
August 2021

UP TO SPEED?

Quality of play in the full-season minor leagues had suffered from the lost 2020 season

6 mins read
Baseball America
August 2021

THE FUTURE IS NOW

Baseball’s golden age of young talent takes center stage at the All-Star Game

5 mins read
Baseball America
August 2021

HISTORIC FINISH

Vanderbilt’s dynamic duo of Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter are the first teammates to win our College Player and Freshman of the Year awards in the same season

5 mins read
Baseball America
August 2021

FINAL PIECE OF THE PUZZLE

Chris Lemonis earned a reputation as a recruiter, but after winning a national title at Mississippi State, he will be remembered as a champion

6 mins read
Baseball America
August 2021

CREATING HIS OWN STORY

The Brewers’ Hedbert Perez may be the son of a Venezuelan baseball icon, but the 18-year-old outfielder is forging his own identity

6 mins read
Baseball America
August 2021

COMING TO FRUITION

Brooks Lee blossoms into a top draft prospect under his father’s tutelage at Cal Poly

6 mins read
Baseball America
August 2021

CATCHING ON QUICK

Emerging young catchers Gabriel Moreno and Francisco Alvarez were gaining helium in prospect circles for their immense offensive upside

10 mins read
Baseball America
August 2021