PEARL – Mississippi State had just won a fourth straight Governor’s Cup, dumping Ole Miss 8-1 before a record crowd of more than 8,600 at Trustmark Park.
And that was really all Jake Mangum, a senior playing five minutes from the house where he grew up, wanted to talk about.
“Four in a row, that’s so special,” Mangum said. “Winning tonight was big because of that and because we were coming off a bad series at Arkansas.”
When this reporter mentioned that Mangum had pulled to within four base hits of the all-time Southeastern Conference career hits record, he immediately changed the subject.
“We got great pitching tonight,” he said. “Defensively, we made the plays when we needed to make them. We got some big hits.”
Mangum got one of those, a sharp single to right in the seventh inning. He added a sacrifice fly an inning later. The hit lifted him to a remarkable 348 for his career, four short of what the great Eddy Furniss achieved for LSU from 1995 until 1998.
Most people consider the SEC the best baseball conference in the land. For certain, it has produced some of the greatest hitters in the sport. I mean, think about it: Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, Frank Thomas, Bo Jackson, Dave Magadan and Todd Helton all played baseball in the SEC. That’s just for starters.
One day, really soon, Jake Mangum’s name is going to go at the top of the hits list. And he’s going to move that record much, much higher. State has 13 regular reason games remaining. Then, the SEC Tournament. Then, a regional. Then, possibly a super regional. And then, perhaps, another College World Series, which is all Mangum says he really cares about.
In fact, these are his exact words: “All I really care about is that we win our last game. That’s what matters: We win our last game.”
For State, 33-9 and ranked No. 9 in the country, winning the last game means winning the national championship. That’s why Mangum came back to play a fourth year of college baseball: to win it all.
The hits record?
“Had nothing to do with it,” he said.
But can we talk about the hits record just a little, Mangum was asked. After all, becoming the SEC’s all-time hits leader is kind of a big deal.
“I really don’t know what to say,” Mangum said. “I mean, if I stay healthy, the hits are going to come. The record will be nice, I guess, but it hasn’t really sunk in. And I really don’t think about it. I think about winning. Winning the last game. That’s priority No. 1.
“I mean, I didn’t come to Mississippi State to set a hits record. That’s not something I thought about when I signed with State, or after my freshman year, or after any year.”
He has all State fans thinking about it now. The Bulldogs host Georgia for a three-game series Friday through Sunday. Clearly, Mangum could tie or break the record this weekend. If he doesn’t break it this weekend, he probably won’t break it at home. The Bulldogs don’t play a mid-week game next week and are at Texas A&M the following weekend.
None of that seems to matter to Mangum, who just wants to win.
Chris Lemonis, the first-year State coach, knew he was getting a great hitter and outfielder but says he got a whole lot more in Mangum.
“When your star player is your hardest worker you really have something special,” Lemonis said. “Jake’s a great player but he’s a different type of player. He’s just so intense, so driven. His competitiveness, his will to win, is his greatest strength.”
Mangum wears that competitiveness on his sleeves. If there was an SEC record for fist pumps, he’d own that one, too.
Lemonis, again: “What I’ve learned about Jake is that the bigger the moment, the better he is. He’s doing special things right now.”
For Jake Mangum, there’s a big, big and special moment coming soon.