A rubber chicken hung from the dugout ceiling while players took turns throwing punches at it like a punching bag. The players from Central Michigan University tossed a football to warm up before the game. Midway through the game, a CMU player slid on a Santa Claus mask to pump up the crowd.
Despite the opposing team’s antics, Mississippi State University snapped CMU’s 19-game winning streak with a 7-2 win in the second game of the NCAA Tournament’s Starkville Regional.
Elijah MacNamee, a senior outfielder from Cypress, Texas, said Dudy Noble Field's environment affects other teams.
"It’s a hard environment to function in if it’s not your home place," MacNamee said. "We take advantage of it. It gets us going; it gets us hyped."
The CMU players, who typically play in front of crowds numbering in the hundreds, took the field in front of 11,511 fans, according to Mississippi State Baseball’s twitter. It was the largest regional crowd in Dudy Noble field history.
The raucous environment was evident during the first inning when the Bulldogs strung together seven hits in a row to take an early four-run lead. The Bulldogs did this against a CMU pitcher with an ERA of 2.72 and zero losses on the season.
Tanner Allen, a sophomore first-baseman from Theodore, Alabama, said he told Rowdey Jordan, a sophomore left-fielder from Auburn, Alabama, what to expect when he stepped into the batter’s box.
"I told Rowdey when I got back into the dugout, 'Dude, you’re going to step into the box and your feet are going to be shaking it so loud.' He started laughing, but I was right," Allen said.
The Bulldogs tacked on two more runs in the third inning before the Chippewas decided to make a pitching change. The CMU bullpen effectively shut down the Bulldogs’s offense for the rest of the game, only allowing one run off a solo-shot homerun in the ninth inning from Allen.
Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year Ethan Small, a junior left-handed pitcher from Lexington, Tennessee, had ten strikeouts in six innings on a night which saw the Bulldogs break their single season strikeout record. Small struck out seven looking mostly due to a devastating change-up.
The only Bulldog without a hit was the SEC all-time leader in hits, Jake Mangum, a senior center-fielder from Pearl, Mississippi. Mangum has zero hits in his last 16 at-bats, but the message from his teammates has been one of support.
"I tell Jake, 'You're the SEC leader in hits of all-time, man. Just keep doing you. You're a mutant at the plate,'" Allen said.
After Mangum grounded out in the fifth inning, he squatted and investigated his helmet for answers. The MSU first base coach approached him, and Mangum popped up, nodded at his coach and jogged towards the center field.
Despite his struggles at the plate, head coach Chris Lemonis said Mangum is focused. Mangum’s fielding shone in the ninth inning when he ran straight back and made an impressive jumping catch.
"A lot of kids that are in slumps don’t make that catch," Lemonis said.
The Bulldogs hope it is only a matter of time before Mangum regains his form, which has given him the nickname "The Mayor of Starkville." They will face the winner of the CMU and University of Miami game Saturday at 8 p.m.