Christmas and New Year’s Day will both come and go over the next week and change, meaning 2013 is nearing completion. It’s the only 2013 we’ll ever have, and for those whose loyalty and enjoyment lies in any part with Mississippi State athletics, the Bulldogs made good use of the 12 months.
Perhaps the greatest team season in history took place in the spring and summer, culminating in Omaha as finalists for the National Championship in the College World Series.
Trying to rank the best moments of 2013 would be both difficult and subjective, so instead, consider this a review, in no particular order, of those times, whether specific or broad, which made being a part of Mississippi State so special this year. A Facebook photo album of your submitted 2013 photos can be found here.
Maroons and Whites: Two of my favorite moments were very similar and came as a result the Bulldog faithful taking over Omaha in June, frequently striking up the fight song or, of course, the Maroon-White cheer.
Few instances were more entertaining than when the baseball team visited the zoo and came across the tiger pit. One striped feline roamed the jungle-y area and this particular tiger roared at the Diamond Dawgs as they stood along the railing watching him.
Perhaps because they had heard it so much lately or maybe because it was just this clear, the roar sounded quite similar to someone yelling “Maroooon!” So, of course, the players yelled back “Whiiiite!” The tiger responded in kind, roaring “Maroooon!” once more, this time somehow more clear than the first. Everyone around, including several stray MSU fans, joined the team in yelling back “Whiiiiiite!” even louder than the first time. And so the exchange went for several stanzas. https://vine.co/v/huz65V69Lhi
The final Maroon-White cheer in Omaha – and there were more than most could count – came during the final moments of that magical trip and run. After MSU lost its last game of the season, after that final out, the Bulldogs had to stand in their own dugout, tears and sweat mixing on their crestfallen faces, as UCLA celebrated winning the National Championship.
But as the Bruins got lost in their own excitement, the crowd began to chant back and forth, “Marooooon…Whiiiiite!,” louder and louder with each vocal volley. Sure, MSU had lost, but what amounted to a home crowd for them was letting their team know how proud they were, how much the trip had meant to everyone, both there and back home. https://hailstatebeat.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/the-best-season-in-msu-history-comes-to-an-end/
Strike!: Near the end of training camp for the football team in August, Dan Mullen surprised his team by telling them that, instead of practice in the summer heat of Mississippi, they were going bowling. While there, I joked with center Dillon Day and left guard Gabe Jackson about trick shots, eventually challenging Day to snap the bowling ball. He laughed and agreed to try it.
Media relations man and social media savant Kyle Niblett turned on the camera as Day walked to the top of the line, turned his back to the pins, made a fake line call to his teammates and snapped the ball between his legs. That should’ve been the end of the humor, but as the ball sailed down the lane, everyone watching had the same thought at the same time – “Oh, that’s actually a good shot.”
Finally, ball struck pins and all 10 of them fell down. Day danced and teammates cheered after he had somehow snapped a strike. He even got on ESPN for it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xy7Pjf6taSI
All Ally Everything: A sophomore on the women’s golf team, Ally McDonald’s entire season was a collection of spectacular moments. She broke or tied, quite literally, every single-season record in the MSU record book.
Ally won the NCAA Central Regional, was named GolfWeek’s National Player of the Week, finished 10th in the NCAA Championship, won the North and South Amateur Championship, is ranked the No. 12 amateur in the world and No. 4 in the U.S., represented her country in the Spirit Golf Tournament and has a future as bright as any at MSU or in women’s golf. http://www.hailstate.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=16800&ATCLID=209331582
Tubby Versatility: junior receiver Jameon Lewis, in his first season as a starter for MSU, once scored three different ways in a game – passing, rushing and receiving a touchdown over the course of four quarters. Then, a few weeks later, he did it again. Crazy crazy. https://hailstatebeat.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/versatility-opportunity-create-big-season-for-jameon-lewis/
VANNtastic Achievements: Vann Stuedeman’s softball team made it to the postseason for the second time in her two years at MSU, and this time, the Bulldogs got their first NCAA Tournament win in 15 years. The jump in excitement and competitiveness in State’s softball program has been impossible to ignore and hard to be matched anywhere. https://hailstatebeat.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/live-blog-msu-softball-in-mobile-regional/
#GetBeard: Sophomore pitcher Trevor Fitts – with the tutelage of John Cohen – may have single-handedly saved Power Point when he created a presentation imploring his coach to let the team grow facial hair. Cohen obliged in the preseason, then the news and the accompanying Power Point presentation leaked out in June to much applause and fanfare. https://hailstatebeat.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/why-having-a-beard-will-help-the-mississippi-state-baseball-team-go-to-omaha/
First is Worst, Second’s Best: In April, MSU fans sent off two students from college and into the working world with far better jobs than most graduates could find when cornerbacks Darius Slay and Johnthan Banks were both selected in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. https://hailstatebeat.wordpress.com/2013/04/29/catching-up-with-former-bulldog-and-new-buccaneer-johnthan-banks/
“SHOOT IT!”: For whatever reason, there seems to be little that’s more loved by college basketball fans than a walk-on who gets in the game. Baxter Price was that walk-on for Rick Ray’s team in 2013 and perhaps his greatest achievement came when the senior guard clocked 16 minutes on the road against Florida in 2013, receiving much praise from Ray for how he handled what should’ve been an intimidating situation. https://hailstatebeat.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/the-baxter-price-story/
Minister of Defense: Easily the best moment of Vic Schaefer’s first season as MSU’s women’s basketball coach came when his team took down No. 11 Georgia on Senior Night in The Hump, and did so in convincing fashion. His Bulldogs held a 23-4 team to only 15 points in the first half, winning by a final score of 50-38. http://www.hailstate.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPID=10995&DB_OEM_ID=16800&ATCLID=206496600
National Champs: Not one, but two track and field Bulldogs won individual National Championships during the spring season when Erica Bougard (pentathlon) and D’Angelo Cherry (60-meter dash) both took home National Titles, two of the premier athletes across the world coming out of Starkville, Mississippi. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPRlv-tt20g and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsnLGxSxRhE
Service With a Smile: When Jenny Hazelwood’s volleyball team hosted Ole Miss this season, it was broadcast on ESPNU and an impressive 1,663 fans walked through the doors of Newell-Grissom, the largest SEC crowd in history at MSU.
With cruising wins over Tennessee and South Carolina, MSU got its first-ever back-to-back sweeps against conference opponents.
Along the way, Roxanne McVey broke the school digs record with 632, tied her own SEC record 5.64 digs per set and, along with Kimmy Gardiner, became the first from MSU to ever be named All-American honorable mention. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1u9ij2OHd4w
Carnegie Hall of College Baseball: Given that nickname by Nelle Cohen, wife of John, Dudy Noble Field hosted an NCAA Regional for the first time in 10 years. Open grills, packed stands and big wins highlighted the return of postseason action to The Dude. https://hailstatebeat.wordpress.com/2013/06/04/10-years-worth-the-wait-for-mississippi-state-baseball/
That’s Offensive: Under first-year coach Aaron Gordon, senior forward and long-time threat to opposing defenses Elisabeth Sullivan scored enough to become MSU’s all-time leading goal scorer, even notching a hat trick in one game along the way.
We Want Quiznos: At one men’s basketball game early in the year, MSU had a particularly large crowd, and they must have been hungry as the students and eventually the entire coliseum began chanting “We Want Quiz-Nos.” We later learned MSU’s eventual top football signee, Chris Jones, was in attendance, who I’m sure was impressed by the passion Bulldog fans have for sandwiches. Still not sure what all that was about.
“FORE!”: By all measurements, both the men’s and women’s golf teams had the best seasons in their collective histories, constantly making headlines and breaking records over the course of the spring and summer.
In addition to their return to the NCAA Tournament, Clay Homan’s men’s team won a school-record four tournaments and saw outstanding individual performances on a weekly basis.
Ginger Brown-Lemm’s women’s team became the first team from the state of Mississippi to the advance to the NCAA Championships, earning a No. 8 national-ranking and winning their first tournament since 2004 along the way.
Black Hole Opens: In the Egg Bowl, one of the last few events of 2013, the previously mentioned defensive tackle Chris Jones and Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche played in the same game as true freshmen. The pair were connected as the top two recruits in the 2013 signing class, then even moreso when they signed with rival schools in the Magnolia State.
Early in the game, Ole Miss got tricky and lined up Nkemdiche at running back. Jones, of course, remained at defensive tackle and on one of those runs all 600 pounds between the pair barreled closer to each other, colliding at the same point with Jones dropping Nkemdiche straight to the ground.
One More: This one comes from Bart Gregory on the moment that turned around Chad Girodo’s season on the mound for the Diamond Dawgs: “In the Bama baseball series, Girodo walks a left-handed hitter. Pitching coach Butch Thompson almost goes to get him. Previously, Girodo had only been used against lefties. But Butch leaves him in and he strikes out a right-handed hitter in the clutch. It took that moment for Chad to really realize he had good enough stuff to get anybody out. He was dominant after that.”
Egg Hoops: Far and away the happiest moment for Rick Ray’s basketball team came on March 2nd, with his team on a double-digit losing streak and hosting Ole Miss in The Hump. His Bulldogs pulled out a huge win in the best game they’d played all year. Immediately after winning, the team sprinted to the packed student section and celebrated in the arms of their classmates, pure joy for having finally broken through. http://www.hailstate.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPID=10994&DB_OEM_ID=16800&ATCLID=206508174
Juice Points: Perhaps the best thing to come out of the preseason for the football team was the collaborative invention of Geoff Collins and Ryan McNamara – juice points. The term and associated catch-phrases have etched their way into the vernacular of the twitter-savvy MSU fan base. https://hailstatebeat.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/catching-up-with-the-creator-of-juice-points/
Double Excitement: The way Per Nilsson has turned around MSU’s tennis program has been a pleasure to watch. His Bulldogs hosted an NCAA Regional in Starkville at the end of a top-15 season, won it with ease and eventually worked their way to the prestigious Round of 16 in Champaign, Illinois. He and many other coaches made spring 2013 one of the best half-year spans in MSU history.
Workin’ Overtime: A pair of quarterbacks had a pair of runs in a pair of overtimes in a pair of games ending the regular season for MSU. Both were unexpected in their own ways. Damian Williams lined up for the first snap of overtime, on the road against Arkansas, as a true freshman. Then, before anyone could even register what was happening, the ball had been snapped and Williams had scampered an easy 25 yards for the game-winning touchdown, as his defense held steady when Arkansas’ turn came.
The very next week, the Egg Bowl went to overtime for the first time in it’s storied history, and it was the unlikely return of Dak Prescott that sparked it. Having slowly become something of a hero over the course of the 2013 season, Prescott wasn’t expected to play against Ole Miss. In fact, Dan Mullen had said they thought he’d be lucky to play in a bowl game. Then, in the fourth quarter and with MSU in need of something, Prescott put on his helmet and took the field, chants of “Dak! Dak! Dak!” rolling through Davis Wade. Called a miracle by Mullen, Prescott’s return and MSU’s subsequent overtime win elevated the quarterback from regular-season hero to Egg Bowl legend, ensuring a place in the hearts of memories of Bulldog fans and MSU lore. https://hailstatebeat.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/friday-thingamabob-how-dak-prescott-became-a-legend-and-willed-msu-to-egg-bowl-victory/
Bombs [Mostly] Away: Two home runs and one that fell short were big parts of MSU’s postseason run. Few cracks of the bat resulted in as impressive of a hit as Wes Rea’s towering, colossal home run against Virginia in the Super Regional in Charlottesville. It’s impact on the game was felt, for sure, but it was something of a moment within itself. The slow-motion replay shows fans in the back row of the outfield seating turning their heads and looking skyward as the ball formed a deep arc, starting at home plate and ending far beyond their already-distant area of the park.
Once they arrived in Omaha, even Rea realized how difficult it was to get one over the fences in TD Ameritrade Park. Hunter Renfroe, however, didn’t seem to care, swinging away in batting practice, swinging away in the game and after so many others fell short, he finally hit one just right, sending one over the wall and into MSU’s bullpen, the go-ahead runs scored in dramatic fashion to beat Oregon State.
As Renfroe rounded third, he looked up to the full section of State fans, raised his arm and emphatically saluted the Maroon and White faithful, an image that won’t soon be forgotten. https://hailstatebeat.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/on-hunter-renfroes-biggest-home-run-the-one-he-never-thought-would-happen/
Then, of course, was the home run Renfroe didn’t allow. Jonathan Holder, otherwise brilliant, had left a pitch hanging over the plate, then he watched as the ball shot over his head, deep into right field of the massive park, appearing as if it might have enough juice, might catch enough wind, to make it over the wall.
As the ball sailed, Renfroe sprinted from his post in the grass, reaching the warning track and turning at the last moment to jump in the air and snag the ball, saving the pitch and the day. http://www.forwhomthecowbelltolls.com/bulldogs-baseball/2013/6/16/4435372/the-long-road-to-omaha-pays-off-the-jimmy-jon-josey-story
You’re Out!: Of the many student-athletes who made their debuts in the Maroon and White in 2013, few were as impressive as junior pitcher Alison Owen for the Bulldog softball team. She was Vann Stuedeman’s ace and every opposing coach’s fear. Her craziest feat: On one Saturday in a tournament, Owen set an MSU record with 15 strikeouts in a game. The very next day on Sunday, she broke her own record and struck out 16. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75UHlYn9YHU
Record Russell: Tyler Russell’s senior season didn’t go the way he wanted it to, as injuries piled up and he was forced to watch, but his toughness and success did not go unnoticed or uncelebrated. It was hard not to be happy for the Mississippi native when he broke the all-time touchdown-passing record against LSU in front of the home crowd. https://hailstatebeat.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/sunday-thingamabob-conflicting-emotions-after-a-skewed-final-make-it-a-strange-sunday-for-msu/
God’s Gonna Cut You Down: Somehow, the song played for All-American closer Jonathan Holder as he took the mound became the anthem of MSU baseball. Johnny Cash’s deep, deliberate ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’ added to Holder’s aura, part of what made him a fan favorite, and was even somehow sneakily played at the SEC Tournament in Hoover.
Holder embodied the song over the course of the season, most notably when he fielded a hit at Virginia in the ninth inning and tossed the ball to Wes Rea at first base, who scooped it out of the dirt with his long arms and won the game, sending Mississippi State to the College World Series. https://hailstatebeat.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/jonathan-holder-msus-force-out-of-the-bullpen/
Double the Pleasure, Singles are Fun: In November, women’s tennis had not one but two champions come out of the Roberta Alison Classic, a part of their fall slate. Junior Naomi Tran streaked through the tournament, winning every match on her way to the singles title, while teammate and true freshman Timea Guib cruised to a singles title in the consolation round, while two other teammates made it to the championship matches in their draws. http://www.hailstate.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=90935&SPID=11003&DB_LANG=C&DB_OEM_ID=16800&ATCLID=209296994
No More Sneaking Out: Twice in 2013, MSU and Loyola were able to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the Game of Change, with reunions in both Starkville and Chicago, where the historic handshake was re-enacted. When MSU snuck out of the state to play a Loyola team with black players, despite the ruling of the Mississippi Governor, it was one of the biggest moments in the history of the university, the state and the NCAA. What is right and natural, things we take for granted now, had to be fought for then by those who acted on their principles and belief in human equality.
Honest Gabe: It seems appropriate that an offensive lineman – the position in football receiving the least amount of credit and praise while being some of the strongest and hardest working – won the award for best player in Mississippi, a state full of those in that blue collar mold. Gabe Jackson won the Conerly Trophy, an honor he richly deserved, in addition to being the first recipient of the inaugural Kent Hull Award, given to the top offensive lineman in the state. People in that position, especially at guard, will rarely get the attention they deserve, making it even more special for Gabe. http://www.hailstate.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=16800&ATCLID=209331577
The Best, You Say?: His name has come up a few times already, which should make it no surprise that Hunter Renfroe won the Ferriss Trophy, given to the best baseball player in the state of Mississippi, while he was also drafted in the first round of the 2013 MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres. https://hailstatebeat.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/hunter-renfroes-motivation-and-the-story-behind-mississippi-states-monster/
On that Ferriss note, one of the coolest things I’ve seen in my short career in journalism was Boo Ferriss, he of multiple halls of fame as both coach and player, speaking to MSU’s baseball team this fall. His 90 years of experience and knowledge, the names he played with and the lessons he learned are a treasure to all who love the sport of baseball. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6msHrh7Q4Ps
Not Done Yet: Of course, Gabe and Hunter aren’t the only ones to receive such awards. Now a junior, sophomore forward Martha Alwal won the Gillom Trophy this spring, given annually to the top women’s basketball player in the state. This fall, only a few games into her third year, Alwal had already broken the all-time blocked shots record at MSU. Her career has been and continues to be impressive, with a year and a half of it left.
Don’t Break the Seal: In January, MSU’s football coaches and team returned from the Gator Bowl and immediately moved into their the new place – the $25 million Seal Family Football Complex, one of the top facilities in the country and a memorial to the success and dedication of MSU and its fans. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3HptIxx_wE
Second B is Silent: The founding and the rise to popularity of the Bench Mobb was both strange and wonderful. Basically, three goofballs from the pitching staff did goofball things in the dugout, joined by other teammates, over the course of the Diamond Dawgs campaign. In the best season in MSU sports history, this fun-loving and completely un-serious trio was the face of the team, even getting their own profile on ESPN.
My favorite from them came in the SEC Tournament when MSU and Missouri were deadlocked in a tie all the way through 16 innings, until the Bulldogs finally won it in the 17th. Seen in the dugout over the course of extra innings was the Bench Mobb, getting weirder as each inning passed, eventually having their belts tied around their heads and their jerseys unbuttoned nearly all the way to their bellybuttons. And it worked. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BGSrvcRsI8
“I Got You the Ball!”: Why it was so entertaining I’m still not sure, but it was also the beginning of Taveze Calhoun’s rise to stardom. Against Alcorn State in early September, the sophomore corner saw a ball pop loose and quickly pounced on it. Upon recovery, Calhoun jumped onto his feet, raised the ball in the air and sprinted straight across the field for his defensive coordinator Geoff Collins and, arm outstretched, handed him the ball as the team celebrated.
Calhoun later went on to pick off Heisman finalist AJ McCarron twice when Alabama came to Starkville, taking the ball to Collins after each interception. https://hailstatebeat.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/i-got-you-the-ball-coach-inside-taveze-calhouns-fumble-recovery-against-alcorn-state/
What Sparked the Run: For as great as baseball’s CWS run was, there was a time when it was in doubt. In fact, entering Sunday in a series at Ole Miss, many were concerned the Bulldogs might not even host a regional, worrying the season may have a less-than-stellar ending. It was that Sunday, many have observed, that sparked the run ultimately ending in Omaha.
The Bulldogs were down 6-0 in Oxford, the outcome clear and the minds of MSU fans everywhere anxious in worry. Then, the miraculous happened. Somehow, Cohen’s club rallied, didn’t get down on themselves and clawed their way back with each run until they finally got the lead and went on to win 7-6. From that point on, the Bulldogs were a different team.
Team Over Self: We didn’t find out about this moment until the season was over, but it’s a particularly honorable one. Senior safety Nickoe Whitley has a future in football that likely includes playing in the NFL, and he’s known that for years. Early this season, his final one on campus, he suffered a tear to his ACL, generally a season-ending injury.
The doctors came to Whitley and said, basically, he could play if he really wanted to, but that he needed surgery, and he needed it right then if he had any hope of being ready for the NFL Draft in May. Whitley, as we know now, took the selfless road, telling his coaches he wanted to play. It was his last season in the Maroon and White and he refused to abandon his teammates. That’s True Maroon.
Some Things are More Important: Two moments came from baseball this year that had very little to do with wins and losses on a schedule card or statistics in a game program.
Senior Sam Frost, one of the nicer people on campus, was named the SEC’s Scholar Athlete of the Year, an impressive feat, even if it’s one that doesn’t make the SportsCenter rundown.
Fellow senior Mitch Slauter had a supremely special moment before his Senior Day, not in the locker room, but in a lake, as he was baptized in the water, his teammates all with him, before playing what could’ve been his final game at Dudy Noble.