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The sports year 2018 was a colorful one. In Mississippi, you could mostly color it maroon.
Mississippi State women’s basketball and baseball teams were huge national stories, competing on the highest levels of the sports. Meanwhile, Joe Moorhead’s first State football team overcame a slow start to finish 8-4 and claim a New Year’s Day bowl bid.
Today’s task is to recount Mississippi’s top sports stories of the year that ends today, including the fact that for the first time in state history, Mississippians could legally place a bet at casino sports books.
This is one guy’s guy’s opinion on the Magnolia State’s top sports stories of 2018:
- With 100 seconds left to play in the championship game, Vic Schaefer’s Mississippi State women led Notre Dame by five points. Alas, they could not close the deal. Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale made a miraculous, off-balance 3-pointer with one-tenth of one tick left on the clock to give the Irish a 61-58 victory and deny State its first national championship in any sport. There were many what-ifs for State. What if Teaira McCowan hadn’t missed a late layup she makes 95 percent of the time? What if officials had called what seemed an obvious foul against Notre Dame in the possession that preceded Ogunbowale’s bucket? The Bulldogs finished the season 37-2 and ranked second in the national polls. Both McCowan and Victoria Vivians made various All-America teams.
- On August 1, Mississippi became the third state to legalize sports gaming. The move came a little more than two months after the U.S. Supreme Court erased a national ban on sports gaming. State lawmakers hoped sports betting would bring badly needed tax revenue to the state’s coffers. A mid-December report showed that $116 million had been legally bet, resulting in $1.03 million in tax revenue for the state. Casinos pay a 12 percent tax – 8 percent to the state and 4 percent to local governments – on their winnings, including earnings from sports bets.
- Mississippi State’s baseball season began dismally with the Bulldogs suffering a one-sided three-game sweep at Southern Miss. A day later, coach Andy Cannizaro was forced out reportedly because of an affair with an MSU athletic department employee. Somehow, State’s young team regrouped under interim coach Gary Henderson, earned a regional berth, won a regional at Tallahassee, a Super Regional at Nashville and won their first two games of the College World Series at Omaha, before falling twice to eventual national champion Oregon State.
- Moorhead’s first State team, led by one of the nation’s best defenses, won the Egg Bowl 35-3 to finish the regular season with an 8-4 record and a No. 18 national ranking. The Bulldogs got off to a slow start, including a 28-7 loss at Kentucky and a bitterly disappointing 13-7 loss to Florida in Dan Mullen’s return to Starkville. But the Bulldogs won five of their final seven and will play Iowa in Tuesday’s Outback Bowl at Tampa.
- The team Ole Miss baseball coach Mike Bianco called his best ever won the Southeastern Conference Tournament, finished the regular season No. 4 in the country, but then lost to Tennessee Tech in an NCAA Regional the Rebels hosted at Oxford. In baseball, it’s all about being hot at the right time and the Rebels were not.
- The same was true of Southern Miss baseball, ranked nationally all season long after a fast start and winner of both the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles. The Golden Eagles, led by All American pitcher Nick Sandlin, finished 44-18 but lost two of three games in the Fayetteville, Ark. Regional.
- Andy Kennedy, the winningest coach in Ole Miss basketball history, resigned near the end of a disappointing season and a 12-year run in Oxford that produced 245 victories, two SEC Western Division championships and one SEC Tournament championship. Kennedy was eventually replaced by Kermit Davis Jr. Davis’s Rebels are off to a 10-2 start and he has received rave reviews for his coaching.
- Mississippi State men’s basketball continues to show steady improvement under Ben Howland and may be ready for a breakthrough. The Bulldogs are 12-1 and ranked No. 17 in the nation entering conference play.
- Alcorn State, under Fred McNair, wins the SWAC football championship, beating Southern University 37-28 in the championship game before losing 24-22 to North Carolina in the Celebration Bowl.
- Chris Lemonis was named Mississippi State’s 18th baseball coach on June 8, as State passed on Gary Henderson, the interim coach who led the Bulldogs to such a storybook season.
Also huge stories: Brandon’s Gardner Minshew, playing for Washington State, wins Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award after sensational senior season. … Victoria Vivians wins unprecedented fourth straight C Spire Gillom Trophy . … Quinndarry Weatherspoon wins Howell Trophy. … Jeffery Simmons wins Conerly Trophy. … Southern Miss All America pitcher Nick Sandlin wins the Ferriss. …Ole Miss All American golfer Braden Thornberry, ranked as the world’s No. 1 amateur for much of the year, turns pro after the most productive college golf career in Mississippi history. … Jackson State fires football coach Tony Hughes, elevates veteran assistant John Hendrick. … Hughes, one of the most respected recruiters in Mississippi history, rejoins the staff at Mississippi State.