Before the season no one would have predicted Mississippi State baseball would conclude their season in the Super Regionals, but that is what happened as MSU fell to LSU in Baton Rouge to end a miraculous season.
At the end of the first season under head coach Andy Cannizaro, Cannizaro proved he is up to the task as MSU’s head coach.
Before the season I had my doubts about Cannizaro and the job he could do. I did not like MSU hiring a coach who did not have previous head coaching experience. When it was announced that John Cohen was going to become the new athletic director at MSU and leaving the baseball team, I was worried MSU would not be able to find a coach of the same standard as Cohen.
Cohen had taken MSU to a College World Series final and had won the SEC regular season title in 2016, so when he and his coaching experience was replaced by a man who had never been a college head coach, I was a little worried.
However, after Cannizaro’s first season, I see I could not have been more wrong.
The places Cannizaro took MSU this year, with all the losses and injuries is nothing short of a miracle.
Before the season started, MSU already had lost four pitchers to season-ending injuries. They then lost five more pitchers throughout the season to injuries or, in Ryan Cyr’s case, dismissal from the team.
To put in perspective the disaster that was MSU’s bullpen situation, MSU’s usual game two starter was Cole Gordon, who going into the season was projected as MSU’s first baseman. Jake Mangum, the leadoff batter for MSU, was MSU’s game three starter before he broke his wrist midway through the season.
For most of the season, Cannizaro was managing a team in the toughest conference in college baseball with three full-time pitchers; starter Konnor Pilkington, and relievers Riley Self and Spencer Price. He also had to rework his batting order multiple times with key contributors Hunter Stovall and Jake Mangum being injured for periods of time.
MSU had a near worst-case scenario season as far as injuries were concerned, and this is after losing the bulk of last year’s team to the MLB draft or graduation.
However, despite all the injuries, Cannizaro worked magic with the hand he was dealt. He made multiple moves throughout the season, some which people initially questioned but they worked out in the long run. The biggest of which was to move Brent Rooker up to the two-hole in the batting order.
Rooker had batted in the clean-up spot, where most managers put their best power hitter. However, he sandwiched Rooker in-between solid hitters in Jake Mangum and Ryan Gridley in the line-up.
What this did is it gave Rooker many opportunities to come up to the plate with Mangum on base. It then also punished teams that walked Rooker by having a good hitter in Gridley behind him. This is just one of the many positive moves Cannizaro made throughout the year.
This was a team that no one expected anything from preseason, which was before all the injuries.
However, when the meat of the season came around, MSU was rolling, leading the SEC for multiple weeks and just on the outside of hosting a regional.
It was a miraculous season for MSU and the driving force behind the season was Cannizaro and the way he led this team.
This team was filled with fighters, they were gritty and played hard until the end of the game. This was a team that beat teams, like Kentucky and Texas A&M, that they should not have beaten.
They won games they had no business winning, at the end of the season, 25 of their 40 wins were come-from-behind victories. They lacked the manpower to win games but through the leadership of Cannizaro, they won games.
Cannizaro managed multiple games to perfection this season. He proved to everyone he was not an immature coach coming into to the head coaching position not knowing what he was doing. His management of a small pitching staff was near flawless. He turned a late round pick in Brent Rooker into the best player in college baseball.
Cannizaro is it, he is the coach MSU needs to reach the promised land. MSU will win a national championship under Andy Cannizaro.
I fully believe MSU will win a national title with him as the head coach. Just listen to him in interviews, see the way he stays composed and manages games.
Enough cannot be said about the job Cannizaro did this year. He won 40 games and went to a Super Regional with a team that could not fill out a travel roster. Imagine the things he can do when he has a full pitching staff to manage and a full roster.
All in all, year one under Cannizaro was a resounding success and with him at the helm MSU is in a great position to make a run at a title over the next five years.