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'Nothing's changed': CWS winner Mississippi State baseball carries championship goals into new season

The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson) logo The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson) 10/21/2021 Andy Kostka, Mississippi Clarion Ledger

STARKVILLE — The players had their moment together, a championship parade through the Cotton District. But soon after the festivities finished at the home plate gates of Dudy Noble Field, the Mississippi State baseball players went their separate ways — to summer leagues or the MLB Draft.

So in a way, the magnitude of what they accomplished hasn’t fully set in for right-hander Preston Johnson and others. But there’s little time now to daydream about that final out in Omaha — securing the Bulldogs their first College World Series title — or the parade that followed with goodbyes.

Jun 30, 2021; Omaha, Nebraska, USA; Mississippi St. Bulldogs head coach Chris Lemonis raises the national championship trophy with his team after the win against the Vanderbilt Commodores at TD Ameritrade Park. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports © Steven Branscombe, Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports Jun 30, 2021; Omaha, Nebraska, USA; Mississippi St. Bulldogs head coach Chris Lemonis raises the national championship trophy with his team after the win against the Vanderbilt Commodores at TD Ameritrade Park. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

“It really hasn’t sunk in that we won the national championship,” Johnson said. “But at the same time, you’ve got to get right back to work, because it’s another year rolling around.”

The celebrations will continue, but it will be a balancing act between the old and the new from here on out. There’s a championship ring presentation during the Oct. 30 football game against Kentucky, even as a new edition has begun fall practice, beating Alabama 3-2 in a 14-inning scrimmage last week.

“This team right here isn’t the national championship team,” coach Chris Lemonis said. “That was last year. It’s a really good team. We have a nice trophy. We put it up and recognized that team. But this team wants to do their own thing.”

Their own thing is very similar to what they just accomplished. First baseman Luke Hancock said the goal never changes, even after several key losses to the team.

LAST OUT: Here's what happened to the ball from MSU's final out in the College World Series

Right-hander Will Bednar was selected in the first round by the San Francisco Giants following his 16-start season, in which he earned nine wins and had a 3.12 ERA. The Miami Marlins took outfielder Tanner Allen in the fourth round, the Minnesota Twins selected left-hander Christian MacLeod in the fifth round and the New York Mets picked outfielder Rowdey Jordan in the 11th round.

Those losses won’t be easy to overcome, although Lemonis feels good about the young core expected to take on larger roles.

“Can never replace those guys, just have to rebuild and other guys have to step up,” Hancock said. “Right now, I think some guys have done that, and just hopefully, when the spring comes around, we can continue to do that.”

Hancock mentioned several freshmen who might play  this season, including utility Hunter Hines, infielder Slate Alford, left-hander Pico Kohn and right-hander Jack Walker. Lemonis said there are position battles in center field between Brayland Skinner and Jess Davis, as well as competition at third, second and first — the latter for when Hancock helps catch.

And while Mississippi State lost key starting pitchers, Lemonis said there are six possible candidates for starting roles.

The Bulldogs got over the hump to win a College World Series. They have turned their sights to the 2022 season and new goals — even if those goals look quite similar.

“Nothing’s changed,” Hancock said. “That’s the goal every single year. We’re trying to get back and do it again. It’s going to be a long road, and it’s going to be hard, of course, just like last year. But that’s our goal every single year, and hopefully we can achieve it.”

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: 'Nothing's changed': CWS winner Mississippi State baseball carries championship goals into new season

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