Will Bednar Wins CWS Most Outstanding Player After Stifling Vanderbilt
OMAHA—Welcome to the club of College World Series legends, Will Bednar.
The Mississippi State righthander won CWS Most Outstanding Player honors after securing wins for the Bulldogs three different times in Omaha—against Texas to begin the CWS, against Texas again to advance MSU to the finals and in the national title-clinching 9-0 win against Vanderbilt.
In those three games, he threw 18.1 innings, giving up five hits and three runs with six walks and 26 strikeouts.
"The (award) was unreal,” Bednar said. “I didn't really expect it, to be honest. But that was just a surreal feeling to get that.”
A Most Outstanding Player award and those kinds of numbers will elevate you to legend status on their own, but there was more to Bednar’s performance in Omaha than what you can see in the numbers.
Specifically, there was no real expectation of what he would be able to give the Bulldogs on Wednesday against Vanderbilt in the biggest game in program history. His previous start was just three days prior and he’d thrown 97 pitches. And six days before that, he’d thrown 108 against the Longhorns.
If the quick turnaround didn’t slow him down, it seemed like the accumulation of so many pitches in the previous 10 days might. MSU may have been happy to just get three or four quality innings out of him simply to minimize the number of outs it would need in order to get the ball to closer Landon Sims.
As it turned out, that number of outs was zero, because Bednar was far better than anyone could have reasonably expected.
After issuing three walks as he labored through the first two innings with a pitch count that neared 50, he really took off starting in the third and retired the last 15 batters he faced on the way to six scoreless innings. He didn’t allow a ball out of the infield until the fifth. And by the way, he didn’t allow a single hit. That allowed him to hand the ball off directly to Sims, who recorded the final nine outs without incident.
“It was awesome. It was incredible,” Bednar said. “Obviously those first two innings were a little shaky, but I was able to get into a groove there, really let my defense play behind me. We've got a lot of studs back there. So I might as well let them hit the ball. And it was good. It was good to be out there, and I got just a little tired there at the end. But it was awesome.”
Bednar is in good company among recent pitchers to have won the award. Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker, who he opposed on Wednesday, won it in 2019. Florida’s Alex Faedo took the hardware in 2017. Andrew Beckwith was the winner in 2016 at the end of Coastal Carolina’s magical run to the national title.
Beckwith might be a good comparison for what Bednar accomplished, because his run had a similar vibe.
He threw a complete game in a win over Florida on 100 pitches, tossed a 138-pitch complete game against Texas Christian on four days rest and then came back and threw 5.2 innings with no earned runs allowed on 93 pitches in the clincher against Arizona on five days rest. There was no telling how effective Beckwith would be in that Arizona start given the workload, but he came through to guide the team to a national title. Bednar did the same.
“That guy's a bulldog,” Sims said. “He's the greatest competitor I've ever played with. He works his butt off every single day. There's a lot that goes into his process, his work. Everything behind the scenes that nobody sees.”
We know now that Mississippi State’s offense put up enough runs that Bednar didn’t have to be as good as he was, but without that knowledge going into the game, you couldn’t have overstated just how much MSU needed a good start out of the righthander, because the innings thrown by pitchers other than Bednar or Sims during the CWS were a mixed bag.
The Bulldogs used a kitchen sink approach to win games in Omaha, most notably a 6-5 victory against Virginia when a CWS record seven different relievers were used, but it would have been dicey to bet on being able to win a game like that again.
Fortunately for Mississippi State, Bednar did what he did and it won’t have to find out how that would have gone. The righthander did more than was asked of him, leaving little doubt that there was no one more outstanding than he was.
“He's coming in, and he is ready to go,” coach Chris Lemonis said. “And, I mean, just the opening game against Texas, just every time he's taken the ball here in the postseason, he's just been a champ. And you need somebody to get hot for you in the postseason. And we had that with Will tonight.”