STARKVILLE • Mississippi State has made back-to-back trips to the College World Series and is expected to be contender again this season.
The Diamond Dogs are a consensus top-10 team, ranked anywhere from 6th to 10th in the five preseason polls that have been released. Second-year coach Chris Lemonis returns a solid core of players that helped win a share of the SEC West last season but also welcomes 23 new players to the program, including the nation’s No. 6-ranked recruiting class.
“We’ve got some really good players and some really big holes,” Lemonis said. “So if we can fill those holes and find guys to play in those spots – which I think we have – then I think we have a chance to have a very special team.”
Missing from MSU’s roster this year are MLB first round pick Ethan Small and the SEC’s all-time hits leader Jake Mangum among others. Lemonis will look to Jordan Westburg, Justin Foscue, Tanner Allen and Rowdey Jordan to replace the veteran leadership his club lost during the offseason.
“Those guys have played a lot of college baseball at a high, high level,” Lemonis said. “I feel good about where we’re at. It’s just hard to replace a Jake Mangum and an Ethan Small. Those two dynamics are hard to replace, not just their numbers but also their personalities.”
Looking for answers
Like most teams, the Bulldogs do have some questions heading into the season opening series against Wright State on Feb. 14. However, Lemonis is quite confident his roster has enough talent to find the answers.
“There’s just some unknowns for us right now – starting rotation, bullpens, a couple spots,” Lemonis said. “But we had the same questions last year. I have a lot of trust in our staff not just in developing them but we also have one of the top recruiting classes in the country that just came in.”
Lemonis led State to 52 wins last year, the most by any first-year coach in conference history and became only the third first-year coach in the SEC to take his team to the College World Series. He understands the expectations are for his teams to be a fixture in Omaha each year.
“It’s expected in this program,” Lemonis said. “When you come here, look around and see these facilities, much is given and much is expected. We understand that and the ballclub understands it.”