STARKVILLE • Despite some early-season hiccups, Mississippi State baseball had seemingly turned the corner last month.
The Diamond Dogs swept No. 4 Texas Tech in a two-game midweek series in Biloxi and were riding a five-game winning streak as they prepared to enter Southeastern Conference play.
But little did the MSU players and coaches know, their 3-2 victory over the Red Raiders on March 11 would be their curtain call, as the remainder of the season was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“I’m just sad we’re not going to play together as a group,” said MSU coach Chris Lemonis. “I felt like we were playing really good baseball, felt like we were about to make a jump. We had a tough weekend there early. We lost JT (Ginn). We lost Tanner (Allen). We lost a couple of games, but it just shows you the character of that team to be able to come back, get it together, play great baseball.”
The word at first was that the Bulldogs would open SEC play at home against Arkansas as planned but without fans in attendance. Then came the cancellation of play through March 30 which was quickly extended to April 15.
The College World Series was the next to go and then finally came the announcement that there would be no more college baseball this spring.
“You hate it for a team that was so close and playing so well,” Lemonis said. “All of a sudden, everyone is going their separate directions. Everything changed dramatically. I keep using the word surreal, but it was something we had to do.
“You just hate it, but it was a crazy couple of days for everybody.”
Mississippi State’s season ended with a 12-4 record despite having lost its ace pitcher Ginn for the season on opening day to an elbow injury and right fielder Allen limited to seven starts due to knee and hand injuries.
The 16-game season was the shortest played by a Bulldog team since 1954.
Lemonis is holding out hope that his players will have the opportunity to return to the diamond soon in the various summer leagues that they’ve been assigned to.
“Summer league would be huge to get guys out there and play, just from mental health,” Lemonis said. “Our guys are not used to not playing for this long a time, but also for their game. We’ve talked a lot as a staff about next fall. We hope we get some relief next fall, practice a little more, play more games, but right now that’s far down the list. We want to just be able to get these guys out and play the game.”
Lemonis and his staff are trying their best to stay in touch with a team that is scattered across the country and beyond to keep their spirits up during this time away from the sport that they love.
“The message has been just stay positive and stay on top of their academics,” Lemonis said. “I know that’s probably not what they want to hear, but just keep them educated. A lot of the mental stress is the fear of the unknown – the draft, the team, the season. They’re used to being around a very strong group of guys, so that’s a piece they have been struggling with a little bit. We’re just trying to keep them motivated.
“We have a call list. One coach calls a group each week, so we’re trying to stay in touch with them that way.”