By JOEL COLEMAN
Back in 2007, an 11-year-old Jake Mangum sat in front of a television at a hotel awaiting his next game in a youth league baseball tournament. On the screen were the Mississippi State Bulldogs as they battled Clemson in a super regional that ultimately punched MSU’s ticket to Omaha, Nebraska, and that year’s College World Series.
Fast-forward to nearly a decade later and now some kid in some hotel room somewhere in America is about to have the opportunity to watch Mangum as the freshman outfielder suits up for the Bulldogs in what will be his first-ever taste of postseason college baseball when MSU faces Southeast Missouri State in the first game of the Starkville Regional on Friday.
The contest will mark not only Mangum’s first live experience with a regional or super regional as a player, but also his first in-person view of an NCAA Tournament.
“I’ve never been to a regional,” Mangum said. “Every single time the regionals rolled around, I was at a baseball tournament.
“I’ve actually never been to a regional or super regional. This will be the first time.”
Stories like Mangum’s are likely not all that uncommon for a Mississippi State team that has based its success around so much youth. A total of 15 freshmen make up the MSU roster. A dozen of those have taken the field for the Bulldogs this year. Many, like Mangum, have made significant impacts.
While the Starkville Regional will be new territory for those individuals, some on State’s roster have been through the pressures of the postseason before. Veterans like John Holland aren’t strangers to regional play.
When Holland was just a freshman in 2012, then playing at Florida State, the now-senior infielder got to play in the postseason and contributed to a run to the College World Series for the Seminoles. Four years later with the Bulldogs, Holland said the excitement of playing college baseball in June doesn’t get old.
“It never can,” Holland said with a big smile. “I never had a taste of (playoffs) in high school so getting to have a couple of experiences in postseason in college has definitely made up for it.”
Holland, along with the rest of State’s veterans, knows MSU’s fate this postseason hinges largely on the performance of the youngsters that have thrived for the Bulldogs all year long. With that in mind, Holland and his teammates have been pouring knowledge and advice into the freshmen, something he says has been going on since those guys first got to campus.
“It’s kind of just been trying to feed them as much as we could,” Holland said. “From the fall and back to the beginning of this season, it seems like they’ve all taken everything that we’ve told them and just ran with it. There has been plenty of success from the younger guys. I think they’ve definitely taken what all the upperclassmen have told them and taken it to heart. They’ve all really succeeded.”
The seeds MSU’s veterans have sown indeed fell on fertile soil. Mangum said he’s been soaking up all the lessons he can from those around him in regards to the upcoming weekend.
“There’s a lot of guys that have experience here,” Mangum said. “I was actually talking to (Holland) about it earlier.
“(Jacob Robson) has been through it all. He’s been to Omaha. He was on the team last year. He really has been through everything.”
Whether it’s freshmen, such as Mangum, or the old guard, like Holland, everyone in maroon and white is pulling together to try and make sure MSU’s season lasts beyond this weekend. No matter their age or level of experience, Mangum says every single Bulldog has at least one thing in common with one another.
“People come to Mississippi State to try and win the national championship,” Mangum said. “We’ve set ourselves up well, but the biggest game of the year is Friday so we’ve got to get ready for it.”