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August 2021 Newsletter

Looking back on memorable event, season

Now that the college baseball season officially has reached its end with the crowning of a new national champion, we can look back on the 2021 season with a lot of excitement and relief that, for the most part, the protocols put into place by the NCAA to deal with COVID-19 worked as designed, and that allowed for the occurrence of as normal a season as could be had under the circumstances.

It also means we can take a look back at what made the 2021 season such a special one, not just in how the games were played, but in the players and teams that emerged and what’s next for 2022.

Virtual Night of Champions a success

The end of June also brought the return of the College Baseball Foundation Night of Champions for 2021, where the best of the past and the present were celebrated through the induction of the 2021 Hall of Fame Class and three players and a coach were honored through the quartet of awards presented by the CBF each year.

Headlining the 2021 Hall of Fame class are 1995 National and SEC Player of the Year Todd Helton from Tennessee, one of the top two-way players in college baseball history; and Auburn pitcher Gregg Olson, the first two-time All-American in Tigers history; as well as legendary Stanford head coach Mark Marquess, who spent 41 years with the Cardinal and retired in 2017 as the eighth-winningest coach in NCAA history.

“It’s a great honor because the game now has changed into what the pro game is with a bunch of relievers and you get down to the closer to shorten the game, and being one of the first guys to have done that is a big honor for me,” Olson said during the Night of Champions celebration.

Rounding out the induction class are Clemson outfielder/infielder Rusty Adkins; Florida State and Michigan State coach Danny Litwhiler; Yale 31-game winner Frank Quinn; California State College-San Bernardino and Southern California third baseman Rich Dauer; Terry Kennedy, a catcher for Florida State; coach Frank “Porky” Vieira, who founded the program at Division II University of New Haven and won more than 1,100 games; Lewis University pitcher Tom Brennan; Tim Burzette from University of La Verne; Robert “Bob” Lee, who coached at Southern University; and umpire Dave Yeast.

From the contributor’s section of the ballot is longtime ABCA Executive Director Dave Keilitz, who helped grow the organization into what it is today.

“This is another outstanding class,” said Mike Gustafson, president and CEO of the College Baseball Foundation and the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. “With players from coast to coast and across so many levels of college baseball, this group has a little bit of everything.”

The College Baseball Foundation also recognized the four winners of its yearly awards, including three men who represent some of the best college baseball players in the country.

Taking home the Brooks Wallace Shortstop of the Year Award was Cal Conley from Texas Tech. Kevin Kopps of Arkansas was named the National Pitcher of the Year, and Nebraska shortstop/right-handed pitcher Spencer Schwellenbach was named the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year. Finally, Georgia Gwinnett College head coach Jeremy Sheetinger earned the Skip Bertman National Coach of the Year Award.

“Just from what I’ve heard from people is Brooks Wallace was an incredible person and, outside of baseball, was just an awesome guy,” said Conley, who played for the same program as the man who the award is named after. “He impacted other guys in a very positive way and that’s something that I strive to be off the field is just a good person who’s known for doing things right."

Bulldogs take home the title

In front of a packed, mostly maroon-clad house at TD Ameritrade Park, the Mississippi State Bulldogs made school history, becoming the first team in school history to win a national championship.

The Bulldogs rallied from a rough first game in the CWS Championship Series against Southeastern Conference rival Vanderbilt to claim the next two games in blowout fashion, crushing the Commodores, 13-2, in Game 2 and cruising to a 9-0 victory in the deciding Game 3.

“It’s awesome,” head coach Chris Lemonis said on the field after the game. “For all those kids, for all the players who played here before us and for all these fans, this is unbelievable. It means everything to all of us, the fans, administration, the players. It’s just a huge night for Mississippi State.”

Along the way, the world got to know players who no doubt will shine at the next level but also etched their names into Mississippi State athletic lore. Now, the college baseball world never will forget the names Rowdey Jordan, Logan Tanner, Tanner Allen, Will Bednar, Landon Sims, Kellum Clark and others.

Fans will remember the Bulldogs' ace Bednar coming off just three days rest after beating Texas in the bracket final to pitch six no-hit innings against Vandy in the decisive third game. They’ll remember Clark, who hit only .237 this season, providing the final blow in sending the Bulldogs to the crown with his three-run home run to turn a 6-0 game into a 9-0 runaway. They’ll remember Sims and the three saves he racked up in the CWS, allowing just one run on four hits in four appearances and striking out 15 in 10 innings.

They also will remember the perseverance of a team that finished second in the SEC West behind Arkansas and came into the NCAA tournament as the No. 7 seed but off an 0-2 showing in the SEC Championships. But, like all coaches hope to do, Lemonis had his squad playing its best baseball when it mattered the most.

“It’s been a long year, and these kids have had their backs against the wall a lot of times,” Lemonis said. “They’re just tough. We’ve got tough kids in our program, and they never gave up and kept playing through to the very end, and we’re the last ones standing.”

CWS controversy

The college baseball season didn’t end, however, without some controversy.

After teams had, for the most part, done an outstanding job of keeping players healthy and managing COVID protocols, North Carolina State fell victim to the bug sweeping through the roster — infecting both vaccinated and unvaccinated players — toward the end of the first week of the CWS. What made it worse was that the Wolfpack was 2-0 and in the catbird seat as far as getting to the championship series.

But because of the protocols in place and the number of players who tested positive before their June 25 game against Vanderbilt, the Wolfpack was forced to play with just 13 total players, including four pitchers. Though the N.C. State squad put forth a valiant effort, they could not solve Vanderbilt standout right-hander Jack Leiter, losing 3-1.

Then, in a move widely considered controversial, the NCAA later that night ruled that too many additional N.C. State players had come up positive in further testing. For that reason, the second game between the Wolfpack and Commodores set for June 26 was declared a no-contest, and Vanderbilt advanced to the CWS championship series to face Mississippi State.

“This is a heartbreaking situation, and I’m gutted for everyone involved and for all those that were captivated by the heart and fight of this team,” Wolfpack head coach Elliott Avent said in a statement after the decision was made. “Our medical staff and our players have been incredible this season with all they’ve done to keep us safe and get us ready to play, day in and day out. I love this team and this past month, many people that got to watch them, fell in love with them as well. Although we’re all heartbroken, this team will never be forgotten and will live in the hearts of Wolfpack and baseball fans forever.”

Looking to the fall

While college coaches are again recruiting for the future, the pieces of the puzzle that will shape the immediate future of each club have begun to fall into place with the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft signing deadline on Aug. 1. Coaches now have a good idea of just who will be coming back for 2022 and are filling in the pieces with late signings and welcoming transfers from the portal.

This year, the draft consisted of 20 rounds, half of what the draft has been in the years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic but much more than the five rounds conducted last year.

Louisville catcher Henry Davis was the first overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates, his deal including a $6.5 million signing bonus. Vanderbilt right-hander Jack Leiter then went second to the Texas Rangers, signing for $7.92 million.

Of the 30 first-round picks, 14 came from the college ranks.

Every year, however, there’s one big name who does not sign, and this year that distinction goes to Vanderbilt right-hander Kumar Rocker, who was chosen 10th overall by the New York Mets. Rocker has the option to return to Vanderbilt, but also could decide to pitch in an independent pro league next season and make himself eligible for the 2022 draft.

Also returning to school will be hard-slugging Florida outfielder Jud Fabian, who was chosen in the second round by the Boston Red Sox.

Also, some of the top underclassmen in the nation competed for Team USA’s Collegiate National Team. Because of the pandemic, however, the team was unable to compete internationally as it has done in the past. Therefore, the team was split into two squads – Stars and Stripes – and they competed against each other. Team USA wound up its season with a three-game exhibition series against the U.S. Olympic team before the Olympians headed off to Japan for the Summer Games.

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Inductee Spotlight