Mississippi State starting pitcher Will Bednar tried not to make it about himself. When asked about his individual triumphs at the College World Series — including his latest dominant start in game three of the championship series on Wednesday — and the praise he’s received for them, Bednar deflected to his team.
He credited his defense for backing him with strong play during seven no-hit innings on the mound, said he avoided the center of the celebratory dog pile and, after being pulled from the game before the eighth inning, became a full-fledged cheerleader for his replacement, Landon Sims, who closed out the game and the series.
“I’ve got some awesome teammates but right after [I got pulled] I was kind of right back in blocking out, trying to support Landon,” Bednar said postgame. “I’m probably one of Landon’s biggest supporters. We’re boys, we push each other. I’m always on that top step, just going crazy for him.”
But when the Mississippi State Bulldogs clinched the College World Series title on Wednesday night, the school’s first national championship in any sport ever, it was Bednar at center stage. The Mars Area High School alumnus and native of Valencia, Pennsylvania capped his first and presumably only run in Omaha by blanking the reigning champions for six innings en route to a 9-0 win in the decisive game three and Most Outstanding Player honors.
Whether it was prophecy, destiny or simply blind faith, Mississippi State saw this coming. Before the week even began, veteran outfielder Tanner Allen, who has now been to three College World Series with the Bulldogs, said that this was going to be the team who ended the title drought.
“I think this is our best chance [to win it all],” Allen said. “Only difference is I think we have the pitching depth. We have a lot of good arms out of the bullpen. And we have some experience. And along with some young guys that have a lot of talent and are really good players.”
He was right on two fronts and wrong on one. This was the team who finished the job, but it wasn’t depth that carried the pitching staff. Veterans like Allen and senior outfielder Rowdey Jordan carried the load offensively, but the underclassman starting pitcher, Bednar, thrived under an even heavier load.
Slider is 🔛
— Mississippi State Baseball (@HailStateBB) July 1, 2021
Bednar was playing his first full season in the SEC for a powerhouse program but never shied from the spotlight. As the undisputed ace of this Mississippi State staff, he bookended the College World Series by starting both the Bulldogs’ first and last games of the tournament in Omaha, with a third start nestled in between.
Over three games, Bednar threw 18 ⅓ innings, allowed just three earned runs on five hits and six walks and struck out 25 batters while earning the win in all three contests.
He turned in a performance for the ages in the opener against Texas by striking out 15 batters — a school record for a College World Series game — over six innings of shutout baseball in a 2-1 win.
Will Bednar, Disgusting Back Foot Slider (literally). 🤮 pic.twitter.com/Y0D0YupWnS
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 30, 2021
“That’s at the top of the list,” Bulldogs head coach Chris Lemonis said after the first game vs. the Longhorns. “I grabbed Will after the game, handed him a game ball, and I just told him that’s one of the better performances ever here. I mean, six innings, one hit, 15 punchies. Not many guys have come here and done that, because the talent level is so high.”
Bednar’s second start was the worst of his time in Omaha, but the energetic right-hander, who is expected to hear his name called during the first round of the MLB Draft, still managed to allow only three runs over against the potent Texas lineup.
And he saved his best for last. On Wednesday night, with the first national title in school history on the line, Bednar dazzled. He didn’t tally the gaudy swing and miss or strikeout totals that he did in the first two outings, but instead pitched to contact. Bednar collected 10 of his 18 outs on ground balls.
Bednar struggled early, but was able to weave his way out of trouble. He walked three — all in the first two innings — but did not allow a run or a hit over six innings against Vanderbilt in game three of the final series. A cleanly turned double play helped Bednar escape trouble in the second.
6 👏 4 👏 3 👏 pic.twitter.com/dZhkE8RUks
— Mississippi State Baseball (@HailStateBB) June 30, 2021
He had run up a high pitch count — Bednar entered Wednesday’s game on three days’ rest after throwing 205 pitches the week before. As his total creeped up during the middle innings, Bednar spent the regular trips back to the dugout convincing his coaches that he could keep going. Ultimately, his performance on the hill proved to be all the evidence necessary.
“We were just trying to feel him out, and he got stronger and stronger, and the innings got shorter and shorter in the middle of the game,” Lemonis said. “Every time he’s taken the ball here in the postseason, he’s just been a champ. And you need somebody to get hot for you in the postseason. And we had that with Will tonight.”
The youth and inexperience didn’t matter. Bednar was the star of Mississippi State’s championship run. He played just 23 games in a Bulldogs uniform but will leave an enduring legacy that was cemented by his performance in Omaha. While he stands to make a lot of money when the Draft rolls around in 10 days, Bednar is choosing to revel in the joy of the present.
“It means the world [to win the national championship],” Bednar said. “I mean, Mississippi State baseball fans deserve it. We have the greatest fans in the world. And they’ve been supporting us from day one. It’s awesome to be able to deliver that to them.”