OMAHA—Before the season began, Mississippi State's coaches asked every one of their players to give a three- to five-minute presentation to the rest of the team on any topic they wanted. Junior shortstop Adam Frazier opted to make his own PowerPoint presentation.
"He had slides, pictures of this stadium," Mississippi State coach John Cohen recalled, gesturing around him at TD Ameritrade Park. "And he said, 'When we get there, I don't want it to be new to us. We will have already seen the dugouts. We will have already seen the locker rooms. We will have already seen the playing surfaces, the stands.' How can you not be moved by that?
"Everything he did in that PowerPoint and all the things did in the presentations really came to fruition. It's pretty remarkable when you get 18-22-year-olds—35 of them—and everything they talk about is within an eyelash of coming true."
The Bulldogs handled Omaha like seasoned veterans, not like a program making its first College World Series appearance in six years. They acted as if they felt right at home in TD Ameritrade Park, and they played at a very high level for three games to reach the CWS Finals for the first time ever. But they fell just short of their ultimate goal.
UCLA completed a two-game Finals sweep of MSU with an 8-0 win Tuesday, ending Mississippi State's compelling run. After toppling No. 6 national seed Virginia in the Charlottesville Super Regional, the Bulldogs dispatched another juggernaut in Omaha, twice beating No. 3 national seed Oregon State. They also showed plenty of heart in a come-from-behind win against a quality Indiana club in Omaha. But MSU could not sustain its high level of play in the Finals, as UCLA played cleaner defense, executed better on offense, and pitched better than the Bulldogs did.
"It bothers me that we didn't play well the last two days, but I think we played 15 postseason games, and I feel like we didn't play well in two of them," Cohen said. "That is disappointing, but I will always have a special spot in my heart for this group of kids, because everything they were doing was new to them."
Cohen inherited a program five years ago that was coming off a 23-win season. By 2011, Cohen and his fine coaching staff saw their rebuilding effort accelerate, as they took the Bulldogs to the Gainesville Super Regional, where they pushed mighty Florida to the brink. Last year, they caught fire down the stretch and won the SEC tournament, though they ran out of gas in regionals.
Mississippi State entered this season ranked No. 5 in the BA Top 25, and the Bulldogs justified those lofty preseason expectations by getting back to Omaha, and making it deeper into the tournament than any MSU team before them. The Bulldogs won over college baseball fans around the country with their dugout antics, their shaggy looks and their cohesiveness. Baseball is supposed to be fun, and this team made it fun.
"I'm proud to say that everyone on the team I call my brother, and it's definitely one of the closest teams I've ever been a part of, and the only way it could have been better is to win this thing," Frazier said. "I've never been part of a game where the other team is dogpiling on the field, and it sucks pretty bad."
UCLA's domination of the final game sucked much of the life out of TD Ameritrade Park, which was overrun with maroon shirts. Mississippi State reinforced that its fans are among the most dedicated and passionate in college baseball, and the folks in maroon were justifiably proud of MSU's season.
"I really appreciate the comments about this team going further than any other (in school history), but what they have done is laid the foundation for some future teams," Cohen said. "Because we're going to come back here, and we're going to win this thing. That's what we're here to do—that's why I came to Mississippi State, and we're going to keep knocking that door down."
• The lack of offense at TD Ameritrade Park dominated discussion during most of the College World Series. In the third year of the new park and the BBCOR bats, offense tumbled to historically low levels. There were just 86 runs scored in the 14 CWS games, the fewest in CWS history dating back to 1950. The previous low was 98 in 1973—the last year before metal bats and the DH were implemented. The wind gusted in throughout most of the tournament, often causing line drives that looked like extra-base hits to hang up in the gaps long enough for defenders to get underneath them. And of course, the wind repeatedly killed shots that looked like surefire home runs off the bat. Just three home runs were hit in 14 games in Omaha, the fewest at a CWS since 1966. In the metal-bat era, the the previous low for home runs in the CWS was nine in 2011.
Obviously, BBCOR bats have suppressed offense nationwide, but the home run is still part of the game in other parks—just not at TDAP. Consider that the eight CWS teams averaged an aggregate .56 home runs per game this season before Omaha. In the CWS, they averaged .11 homers per team per game.
• Plenty of fans and reporters lamented the fact that most of the CWS games had a similar feel. They were all low-scoring affairs loaded with sacrifice bunts, and three-run leads felt insurmountable. In fact, teams that lead after eight innings at TDAP are 38-0 in the CWS play over the last three years. But as long as fans keep showing up, the NCAA likely will not view the lack of offense as a problem. And the 2013 CWS drew 341,483 fans, an all-time record. The session-by-session average was 24,392, which beats the previous record set in 2005 (23,952). And the attendance in the final game was 27,127, a new TD Ameritrade Park record.
Of course, with most of the games lacking suspense, fans consistently streamed toward the exits starting in the middle innings, so the park usually looked half full by the end of games.
• Since 2000, teams from the Pac-12 and SEC have won eight of 14 championships. Seven of the last eight champions have come from those two leagues, with the only exception being Fresno State in 2008. And the SEC has had a CWS finalist in six straight seasons.
• There were no extra-inning games in the CWS for the first time since 2008. And there were no weather delays or postponements for the first time since 2007.
• UCLA's Adam Plutko, who won the Bruins' opener against LSU and its Finals opener against MSU, was named Most Outstanding player. Here's the CWS all-tournament team:
C: Brian Holberton, North Carolina
1B: Wes Rea, Mississippi State
2B: Brett Pirtle, Mississippi State
3B: Colin Moran, North Carolina
SS: Pat Valaika, UCLA
OF: Michael Conforto, Oregon State
OF: Eric Filia, UCLA
OF: Hunter Renfroe, Mississippi State
DH: Trey Porter, Mississippi State
P: Adam Plutko, UCLA
P: Nick Vander Tuig, UCLA