Every January, the Mississippi State University baseball team comes together with the sound of aluminum bats pinging and the smacking of red seamed baseballs hitting leather gloves.
Their goal is to make it to Omaha, but this year, they will have to do it without Jake Mangum, Elijah MacNamee and Ethan Small. Head Coach Chris Lemonis said if leaders step up, they will face different games and obstacles.
“A team at this point hasn’t gone through much adversity,” Lemonis said. “Usually when you have adversity, you see those guys stand up.”
For the first time in two years, there was not a change in leadership as Lemonis remained head coach. This brought consistency to the team which they had lacked before. Rowdey Jordan, a junior outfielder from Auburn, Alabama, said he was grateful for the steady leadership.
“It feels amazing,” Jordan said. “It is the comfortability. You have people around you that you are comfortable with. It is going to be a huge plus this year to have the same coaching staff.”
The team is young with just two seniors on the ball club. Because of the number of underclassmen, the leadership of the team will be young as well. Jordan said games will develop the team.
“Being the young team, the more we play the better we get,” Jordan said. “I think we will have our struggles. The more we play the more the younger guys get under their belts. We just get better the more we play.”
For the past two seasons, the Diamond Dawgs have ended up in Omaha despite three different head coaches. The focus of not only getting to Omaha but also winning the game is on the mind of Lemonis as they start the new season.
“It isn’t just getting to Omaha, it is winning Omaha,” Lemonis said. “It is expected in this program. When you come here and you look around and see these facilities. Much is given and much is expected.”
The team is resilient which is shown with their results. Last year the team had 22 wins when the opponent scored first and while this year’s team has yet to forge an identity, Lemonis hopes fans walk away from the game saying one thing.
“Hopefully someone can come to our games right now and say ‘man those guys play hard,’” Lemonis said.
Hard work is a characteristic Jordan said will help younger players develop their skills. Jordan also said instilling confidence through compliments is another way to help young players grow.
“The biggest thing when it comes to dealing with a young team is to get the younger guys on board and to believe they are good enough to play,” Jordan said. “I think we have the talent. It is just gonna be a matter of people stepping up and making plays.”
With the season around the corner, Luke Hancock, a sophomore catcher from Houston, Mississippi, said he was excited to get back out behind the plate and play in front of fans at Dudy Noble Field.
"It has been a while since we got to play in front of them," Hancock said. "We are ready to get out there and play in front of the greatest fans in college baseball."
The season presents an opportunity for Jordan to improve from his sophomore year which he said was a down year. Jordan said, as a player you just learn more about yourself and more from your mistakes.
“I think that is what I’m going to take into this year to help me become a better player and better polished,” Jordan said. “At the end of the day, I’m going to play hard, and I’m going to do what is best for the team.”