June 28, 2018 10:33:46 AM
Thank you Gary Henderson.
Thank you Mike Brown, A.J. Gaura, and Trevor Fitts.
Thank you Elijah MacNamee for doing your part to extend the Mississippi State baseball team's 2018 campaign deep into June.
MacNamee is expected to return for an encore after he guaranteed the Bulldogs will return to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2019. But it remains to be see if any of the first four men will return to the MSU baseball program for the 2018-19 season.
Unfortunately, that level of uncertainty is part of the business of coaching, particularly in a Power Five league like the Southeastern Conference. It's particularly tough on coaches with families or younger coaches who are just starting their careers and looking to gain a foothold in a familiar setting so they build their resumes. Here's hoping Brown, Gaura, and Fitts, who all performed a variety of roles to help keep things clicking at MSU, will find good fits for their families that help them keep their baseball careers on track.
Henderson deserves special thanks. The veteran coach stepped in following MSU's 0-3 start to the season and the resignation of head coach Andy Cannizaro and didn't allow 2018 to become a lost exercise. Henderson led the program like a seasoned professional. He didn't say a lot. He didn't have the energy of Cannizaro. He didn't need to. Henderson delegated. He held players accountable. He challenged the Bulldogs to live up to their potential and to make something out of a season many would have written off.
Some have suggested Henderson wouldn't have received significant consideration to become MSU's next baseball coach if MacNamee hadn't provided his walk-off magic against Florida State to help MSU keep its season alive. That could be true. But there is something to be said for the way the Bulldogs fought to get a key hit or to make a clutch pitch in timely situations. Part of that is talent. Another part is creating a mind-set that allows players to achieve their best results in pressure moments. Henderson and the coaches deserve credit for nurturing that mentality.
Unfortunately for Henderson, it appears unlikely he will get an opportunity to help the Bulldogs take what they learned and win a national title in 2019. Next season was only one factor cited by MSU Director of Athletics John Cohen when he discussed the reasons for hiring Indiana's Chris Lemonis as MSU's new baseball coach. Cohen highlighted Lemonis' success as a recruiter as an important piece in sustaining MSU's success. With construction at Dudy Noble Field nearing an end, it's safe to say Lemonis will have added ammunition when he tries to convince the nation's top players to come to Starkville.
But let's hope the Bulldogs don't lose the grittiness that was an integral part of their run to Omaha. Part of that could be attributed to assistant coach Jake Gautreau and his ability to get the Bulldogs to grind out at-bats. Many times, MSU hitters continued to battle after using one of their fists to beat their chest when they faced a two-strike count.
Grinding is a word that has been used to describe Lemonis' work ethic and his knack for finding the best players, so here's hoping those talents work well with an identity the Bulldogs created in a magical 2018 season.
Keep in mind MSU made the run without a plethora of first-round or early round Major League Baseball draft picks. It didn't roll out four or five relievers who threw 95 mph or better. The Bulldogs also didn't have multiple players with double-digit home runs. What MSU had was a mind-set that wouldn't be denied. Henderson should get a lot of credit for that, even if he made sure to praise the members of the team's coaching staff rather than to seek out praise or to highlight his role.
In an age when coaches often are the first to take all of the blame, Henderson and his staff deserve plenty of praise for making the 2018 season one to remember rather than one to forget.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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