The name of the game when you get to the playoffs in any sport is to survive and advance.
Unfortunately, on Thursday, the Mississippi State Bulldogs were unable to survive and advance, as Louisville scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the ninth inning for a walk-off win that sent the No. 6 overall seed Bulldogs back to StarkVegas well short of what they came to Omaha looking to achieve.
As of this writing, Louisville, Vanderbilt, Michigan and Texas Tech are still standing in the quest for the national title.
Michigan and Texas Tech were scheduled to play early Friday afternoon with Vandy taking on Louisville in the Friday nightcap.
If Michigan and Vandy were victorious then the two will meet in the championship series beginning Monday. If either (or both) Michigan and Vandy were to drop their matchups on Friday, then they will have to face the same opponent today (Saturday) with the winner of either series moving on to the championship series.
No matter how you cut it, all you are looking to do at this point is to survive and advance. No matter how.
During my junior year at Laurel High School (1994), we had one of the best teams ever to grace the diamond in Cardinal and Gold.
We played in the Petal Invitational Tournament to start the season and we won our first two games of the tourney and advanced to the title game to face the homestanding Panthers for the tourney title.
Petal won, but that would not stop one of the best seasons in LHS history on the diamond.
Following the loss, we proceeded to win all 12 games in district play to claim the District 5-4A crown and we entered the playoffs on a 22-game winning streak.
As fate would have it, we were matched up with Petal in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs.
We came into the contest with a 24-1 overall mark and were ranked as one of the Top 5 teams in the state.
Petal finished second in its district behind Oak Grove and the Panthers were not ranked in the Top 10.
However, baseball has that funny way of humbling a person (a team).
That 1994 team at LHS had some really solid players who went on to play at the JUCO level and beyond.
The senior class of Tornadoes on that ’94 team was 10 deep. And the starting lineup each night consisted of eight seniors.
But, as fate would have it, we lost two straight to Petal in the first round of the playoffs. In a flash, our season was over. It ended well short of where every one of us intended for it to be. And, like the loss for MSU on Thursday, it left us all wondering what might have been.
That LHS team had an outfielder who went on to letter for two seasons as a wide receiver at LSU.
There were six more seniors on that team who played ball on the JUCO level and three other guys who advanced past the JUCO level.
That Laurel team was destined to win it all that year, similar to the way that Miss. State was destined to be the last team standing in Omaha this year.
On both occasions, the better team didn’t end up coming out on top. But, that is why we play the games.
It’s not always about the wins and losses in baseball, or any sport for that matter, but what is most important is the journey that gets you there.
Sometimes you win it all and sometimes you are left with the question of “what if?”
But at the end of the day, it’s the journey to either conclusion that makes the entire trip all well worth it.
Guru Nichols is former sports editor of the Leader-Call.