By Eric Olson
The Associated Press
OMAHA, Neb. — The star-studded 1985 Mississippi State baseball team has cast a long shadow over every Bulldogs club that followed. Now the 2013 team is poised to do what no other Mississippi State team in any sport has done — win a national championship.
“They feel like they’re on a mission,” Bulldogs coach John Cohen said Saturday. “They feel like things are coming together for them and they want it all.”
The Bulldogs (51-18) will be playing a UCLA team going for its first title in baseball and the school’s NCAA-record 108th in a team sport when the best-of-three College World Series finals begin Monday night.
Mississippi State’s 1985 squad was talent-laden with future major-league All-Stars Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiero, Jeff Brantley and Bobby Thigpen, who led the 50-win Bulldogs to Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament championships and then to Omaha, where they won two games under Ron Polk.
Their images remain prominent around the baseball complex in Starkville, Miss., and all have sent messages to Cohen wishing the team good luck.
“You hear about Palmeiro and Brantley and those guys who were on that club, and it’s great to be in that company,” first baseman Wes Rea said. “But then again, we’re trying to leave a legacy as well.”
Mississippi State and UCLA (47-17) both went 3-0 in bracket play at the CWS, and the finals figure to be low-scoring at TD Ameritrade Park, where a strong south wind has been blowing in and offense has been at a premium.
UCLA will send junior right-hander and No. 1 starter Adam Plutko (9-3) to the mound for Game 1. Cohen was undecided on his starter.
The Bulldogs have won 10 straight one-run games, including two in the CWS, and have won 15 of 18 this season. UCLA in 17-2 in one-run games and is 30-1 in games in which it holds its opponent to two runs or fewer.
The Bruins will try to squeeze as much as it can out of its limited offense. Their .248 season batting average is 262nd out of 296 teams in Division I, and they’re batting just .182 at the CWS.
No national champion has had a CWS batting average of lower than .249 (1988 Stanford) in the metal-bat era that started in 1974 or lower than .208 (1970 Southern California) since the championship started in 1947.
With eight total runs, the Bruins have matched 1976 Eastern Michigan for fewest by a team in the metal-bat era that won its first three CWS games.
UCLA coach John Savage said his team is better offensively than the numbers indicate.
“It’s a combination of offense, it’s a combination of quality at-bats, it’s the opponent making a mistake,” he said. “That’s the kind of team we are. We’ve kind of taken advantage of every little (break).”
UCLA has walked 12 times, advanced runners eight times with sacrifice bunts, stolen three bases and scored on a sacrifice fly. And 14 of its 16 hits have been singles.