Mississippi State's Will Bednar starts against Texas during a baseball game in the College World Series, Sunday, June 20, 2021, at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. (Chris Machian/Omaha World-Herald via AP)

Mississippi State’s 2021 College World Series experience began Sunday night with a pitching performance for the ages in a thrilling 2-1 victory over Texas. First Will Bednar and then Landon Sims mowed down Texas batters as if the Longhorns were swinging with holes in their bats.

It was astonishing. That’s what it was. Astonishing.

Rick Cleveland

Bednar threw 108 pitches but plate umpire Steve Mattingly might be the guy who wakes up Monday morning with a sore right arm from punching out Texas batters with his animated “strike three” calls. Bednar struck out 15 of the 18 batters he retired, and then Sims came on to fan six of nine. That’s 21 total strikeouts, a record for a nine-inning CWS game.

Making the stellar pitching all the more amazing was the fact that the wind was blowing straight out to center field at Ameritrade Park. Of course you have to hit the ball for the wind to become a factor, and Texas so rarely touched either Bednar or Sims.

Bednar’s stuff was nothing short of electric. He utilized a 95 mph fastball that he located on both sides of the plate and up and down in the strike zone. His slider was evil, breaking sharply and downward. A fourth inning slider broke all the way across the plate and actually hit a Texas batter Eric Kennedy, a left-handed batter, on his left leg. It was as if Bednar was throwing a Wiffle ball.

If a Longhorn batter tried to key on Bednar’s fastball, he was helpless against Bednar’s slider. If the Longhorn looked for slider, he was tardy on the fastball. Bednar, 21-year-old draft-eligible sophomore, surely made himself some money this night. He dominated Texas, a red-hot team, and he did it before an announced crowd of 23,885 fans in college baseball’s Valhalla, Omaha. When Bednar left the game in the seventh inning, seemingly all those fans stood and applauded.

Yes, Bednar said, “It was probably my best ever” performance, “especially on this big a stage.”

Had to be. He allowed only one hit, a fourth inning single up the middle. That was one of only four fair balls the Longhorns managed off Bednar. The others were an infield pop up and two routine fly ball outs.

Meanwhile, Texas starter Ty Madden, a sure-fire first-round draft pick, pitched heroically in a losing effort. He went seven innings, allowing only four hits while striking out 10 and walking two. State got to him for two runs — all the Bulldogs would need — in the fourth inning. Kamren James walked to lead off the inning and then took third on Luke Hancock’s sharp single to right field. James later scored on Scotty Dubrule’s sacrifice fly. And then Hancock scored on Brad Cumbest’s wind-blown triple down the right field line.

Texas did not score until the ninth, but that’s when things got really hairy for State. Sims had retired all six Longhorns he faced in the seventh and eighth innings — five on strikeouts, one on an infield popup. In other words, he had been dominant. And then up stepped Mike Antico to lead off the ninth and he slammed a Sims fastball well over the fence in right centerfield. After Sims retired the next two batters, Ivan Melendez and Cam Williams both singled, putting runners at first and third. That’s when Sims used a slider to get the last out on a grounder to second base. Appropriately, Bednar led the charge out of the State dugout to congratulate Sims.

And so, on their third straight visit to Omaha, the Bulldogs won their CWS opener for the third straight time. That wasn’t lost on State centerfielder Rowdey Jordan, who has been a key member of all three of those Bulldog teams.

“That’s going to be something we talk about,” Jordan said afterward. “We’ve come up short the other times. So I think you celebrate a little bit, but then you put it behind you and that’s what we’re going to tell younger guys: look, guys, we’ve been here, we didn’t get it done, so let’s keep playing good.”

State next plays Tuesday at 6 p.m. against Virginia, which defeated Tennessee 6-0 earlier Sunday. The winner of that game will be in the driver’s seat to advance to the best-two-of-three championship series.


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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.