Diamond Dawgs in CWS spotlight

Published 5:00 am Monday, June 18, 2007

How about those Dawgs!

Mississippi State fans are walking tall and talking proudbecause their Diamond Dawgs have advanced to the College WorldSeries. They receive their first CWS test Friday against NorthCarolina’s Tar Heels, starting at 6 p.m.

Looking back to the start of the 2007 baseball season, Coach RonPolk’s MSU Bulldogs were picked to finish last in the SoutheasternConference. That’s known as the last rung, the cellar, thebasement, where the bottom feeders live.

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Grumbling alumni complained about the 63-year-old Polk’s abilityto coach the younger generation. They said he lacked the recruitingedge to bring the best high school players to Starkville.

Meanwhile, at the top of the SEC West resided the Ole MissRebels. Coach Mike Bianco’s Rebels were fresh from two runners-upfinishes in NCAA Super Regionals.

Plans were under way to expand and refurbish Oxford/UniversityStadium.

Time marches on.

As the season rolled along, both State and Ole Miss were rankednationally. Baseball was a hot item in the Magnolia State. Ithelped soothe the wounds sustained during the long anddisappointing home-for-the-holidays football season.

State and Ole Miss both flexed their muscles in the NCAAregionals. The Bulldogs won on the road at Florida State while theRebels cruised on their own Swayze Field.

Then it was on to the Super Regionals. The Bulldogs sweptClemson last Friday and Saturday and began packing for Omaha.Attention then focused on Tempe, Ariz., where the Rebels weredueling the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Even a non-Rebel could sympathize with Ole Miss faithful latelast Saturday night. The Devils rallied for three runs in thebottom of the ninth inning and broke thousands of hearts inDixie.

Sunday’s finale was just a matter of how long it would take forASU to send the Rebels packing. For sure, the Devils boasted adynamite offense loaded with powerful bats. Their pitching got thejob done, too.

Of course, the die-hard Rebel fans resent MSU’s success. Forthree straight years, the Rebels came oh-so-close to reaching thecoveted World Series.

Certainly, the Magnolia State should rally behind Polk’sBulldogs, no matter what college or university allegiance theyproclaim. The Dawgs are representing Mississippi and we wish themthe best of luck in Omaha.

Speaking of luck, it was a shock when Florida announced thefiring of baseball coach Pat McMahon. You may remember McMahon asthe popular coach who replaced Polk at MSU (1999-2001) when Polkretired for one year before taking the Georgia job.

McMahon had the Gators in the CWS in 2005 but two losing seasonsdampened his popularity in the swamp. Bull Gators expected McMahonto win a national championship just like the Florida football andbasketball teams.

Another recent SEC baseball coaching casualty was Tennessee’sRod Delmonico. The Volunteer faithful were unhappy with Delmonico’ssuccess level. Adding salt to the wounds is the fact that in-staterival Vanderbilt was dominating on the diamond and ranked No. 1during the final weeks of the season.

Obviously, everyone loves a winner. Unfortunately, jealousyamong schools often overwhelms the alumni’s judgment. They rant andrave about their teams and the coaches receive most of thecriticism.

Outfielder Xavier Qualls and catcher Matt Schexnayder, twoformer Copiah-Lincoln Community College baseball stars, had goodseasons with Southeastern Louisiana University. Qualls, fromBrookhaven, batted .260 for the Lions and hit 5 homers.

Qualls, who started every game for the 34-21 Lions, helped themto their best finish in over 10 years. He stole 12 of 16 bases. Healso had 7 doubles and 29 RBIs.

Schexnayder, from Houma, La. saw duty in 31 games. He batted.270 and had 21 RBIs. He and Qualls were two of the stars onCo-Lin’s 2005 team which finished fourth in the NJCAA Division IIWorld Series in Millington, Tenn.

Speaking of Millington, the latest NJCAA Division II champion isLongview (Mo.). The Lakers rallied to beat Kellogg (Mich.) 5-4.Pitcher Chris Matlock of Longview was named Tournament MVP.

Northwest (Miss.) started strong in Millington but the Rangerslost to Longview and fell into the consolation bracket. LSU-Eunicewas the defending Series champion but was eliminated in theregional.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O.BOX 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mailsports@dailyleader.com