OMAHA, Neb. — The way Mississippi State fans showed up for the College World Series finals, it made one wonder whether anyone was left in the Magnolia State on Monday night.
Bulldogs fan Sherry Elmore was walking through the left-field concourse when she happened upon a neighbor who lives in the house behind her in Columbus, Miss.
Small world, huh?
Sherry and her husband, Steve, and Wendy Jolly drove the 870 miles to Omaha in 14 hours, arriving Sunday night.
Steve didn’t have enough vacation time to come for the start of the CWS, but he said there was nothing that would stop him from making the trip if the Bulldogs made it to the finals.
They did, and here he is.
“We follow the Dawgs wherever they go,” Steve said.
Mississippi State spokesman Joe Dier estimated the maroon-and-white turnout at 8,000, roughly a third of the crowd at TD Ameritrade Park. Longtime CWS ticket chairman Herb Hames said he had never seen such a rush of fans pour into town for the finals.
About 1,000 people lined up Monday morning in a heavy thunderstorm for the sale of 1,000 reserved tickets for Game 1, Hames said, and all but a few wore Mississippi State colors. Tickets were sold through a lottery system.
People shut out for reserved seats could buy general admission tickets, and they did en masse, Hames said.
A couple dozen Bulldogs fans were lined up outside the GA gate by noon, five hours before it opened.
“This is very unusual to have this many come up,” Hames said. “I think it’s more than coming to the College World Series. It’s about seeing their team play for a national title. Their school has never won a national title in any sport. The fans really want to be a part of it.”
Donna Sanders of Vicksburg, Miss., flew to Omaha on Sunday to join her husband, Steve, who had driven to Omaha with his brother on Thursday.
The Sanders are Mississippi State football and baseball season ticket holders, and Steve said Donna flew in spur-of-the-moment because she couldn’t stand the thought of missing out on a possible national championship, even if it meant that they couldn’t sit together.
“We’ve been scrambling for tickets,” Steve Sanders said.
Donna said her son’s baseball coach drove back to Vicksburg on Thursday, but turned around and drove back once the Bulldogs won Friday to reach the finals.
“We’ve got a great baseball team and people support it,” Steve Sanders said. “Mississippi State owns a bunch of attendance records in college baseball, but we’ve never played for a national championship. It’s our first in anything. I think we’ve just overwhelmed Omaha, which is great.”
HOMAGE TO WOODEN: UCLA coach John Savage says the impact of John Wooden continues to be felt in his and every other program at UCLA.
The “Wizard of Westwood” built a basketball dynasty at UCLA and is one of the most revered coaches ever. He died in 2010.
“He’s the coach of all coaches,” Savage said. “He set the groundwork for so many staffs, so many programs outside of basketball that it’s hard to put into words what he’s meant to the UCLA family, the UCLA community.
“So we look up to coach Wooden. He’s been our leader forever and ever, and that’s where it starts.”
RENFROE REWARDED: Hunter Renfroe struggled so much his first two seasons at Mississippi State that even the Bulldogs’ bus driver was wondering what was wrong with him.
Everett Kennard and everyone else associated with the Bulldogs are happy with how things have turned out. Renfroe is batting .355 and shares the Southeastern Conference lead with 16 home runs.
He was the No. 13 pick of the major league draft, by San Diego.
Coach John Cohen said he remembers Kennard coming up to him early in the season, after Renfroe got off to a strong start.
“He goes, `It’s about doggone time. You’ve been telling me about this boy for two years and he ain’t done nothing,’ “ Cohen said.
Renfroe came into the season as a .242 career hitter with four home runs in 75 games.
“When you see a kid out of high school who throws the ball 98 mph, runs a 6.6 60 and hits balls over the lights and goes on and on and on, you kind of feel like a very bad coach if those things aren’t happening on the field at the highest level,” Cohen said.
Renfroe’s turnaround started last year when he was playing summer ball for the Bethesda (Md.)
Big Train. He set league records with 16 home runs, 52 RBIs and 48 runs, and he became the first player for the Big Train to have his number (11) retired.
“It helped my confidence a whole lot,” Renfroe said. “Being part of a great organization like Bethesda ... it’s very special to me and it helped with the confidence a lot and getting my timing down and rhythm at the plate.”
BRUINS TAKEOFF POINT: A 4-1 nonconference loss to a middling Loyola Marymount team in April served as the takeoff point for UCLA’s season, pitcher Adam Plutko said.
The loss dropped the Bruins to 22-10 and came on the heels of Pac-12 series losses to Arizona State and Oregon State. They came into Monday 25-7 since the loss to Marymount.
“We beat LMU two out of three, but we lost on that Sunday,” Plutko said. “So it was kind of like a wakeup call, I felt, for our team. We all came pretty close together after that and we said, `You know, we’ve got to play better. We’ve got to finish weekends, and we’ve got to handle details better.’ That is when I felt like we started playing a better style of baseball.”MORE IN Sports Wire
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