The Rally Dawgs continue to exceed expectations

Sep 19, 2015; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs live mascot Bully XXI (Jak) is seen before the game against the Northwestern State Demons at Davis Wade Stadium. Mississippi State won 62-13. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 19, 2015; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs live mascot Bully XXI (Jak) is seen before the game against the Northwestern State Demons at Davis Wade Stadium. Mississippi State won 62-13. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports /

Mississippi State is a consensus top ten team and tied for first place in the SEC. Just like we all thought, right?

Mississippi State baseball is widely considered one of the elite programs in the SEC. A history that includes Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, and numerous trips to Omaha, a college baseball monument that goes by the Left Field Lounge, many top rated recruiting classes, and a dedicated fan-base that expects to cheer for a team consistently competing for conference championships and trips to the College World Series, it is easy to see why the Bulldogs are almost always expected to be in the mix for the SEC crown.

This year, however, was supposed to be different.

John Cohen stepped down from head coach in order to take over the Athletic Director duties once Scott Stricklin bolted for Florida last year. With the head coaching job open, many wondered who would be the next to lead the Bulldogs. Insert Andy Cannizaro. Cannizaro, a former member of the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, was hired to be Mississippi State’s 17th head man in the program’s history back in November. The Louisiana native and Tulane alum served as a professional scout for the Yankees and an assistant for the LSU Tigers, but taking over the reigns of a top-tier SEC program as your first head coaching job is an entirely different ballpark. Many skeptics came out and questioned Cohen’s decision to hire the inexperienced man.

Going into the 2017 season with a first-year head coach without any previous experience, combined with ace Dakota Hudson, catcher Gavin Collins, and pitchers Zac Houston and Austin Sexton off to the big leagues, the defending SEC Champs looked to be headed for a difficult and frustrating rebuilding season in Cannizaro’s opening campaign. The addition of injuries depleting the pitching staff and the team coming off sweeps to Oregon and Arkansas, it looked to be a long and disappointing spring in Starkville.

Then, Brent Rooker happened.

Rooker passed on a contract with the Minnesota Twins to return to Starkville in order to improve his draft stock and to defend the conference championship. Man, has he exceeded expectations or what?

Rooker has quickly become one of the biggest stars in all of College Baseball. Whether it is hitting a key base hit that results in a much-needed RBI or knocking a pitch into the Left Field Lounge, Brent Rooker has put together a season worthy enough to be in the conversation for National Player of the Year honors. The impressive campaign has improved Rooker’s stock dramatically, as he is listed as a top 50 MLB Draft prospect in MLB’s rankings. While, in my opinion, not high enough — it is clear that the decision to return to school has been very beneficial.

Mississippi State’s star has been putting up video game-like numbers all season long. His .885 slugging percentage, 20 doubles, and 162 total bases are the best in all of the nation. Rooker is also top ten nationally in runs batted in, home-runs, on-base percentage, and batting average.

This season has been special for Mississippi State’s outfielder, as he leads the conference in practically every category and has lifted the Bulldogs into the discussion to go back-to-back in the SEC and host a Regional in Starkville come tournament play.

The Rally Dawgs

Cannizaro, Rooker, and the Bulldogs have been victorious in 16 of their 24 SEC games, including big series victories over the Kentucky Wildcats during Super Bulldog Weekend and the Texas A&M Aggies this past weekend on the road. After coming back to defeat the Aggies in College Station on Saturday, the Bulldogs rallied to complete their 21st come-from-behind victory of the season. Twenty-first. The Rally Dawgs are never out of any baseball game that they are in with the batting and offensive power that the Bulldogs possess.

The Twitter account, and the team as a whole, has ran with the “Rally Dawgs” moniker; a term fitting for a team that has been doubted before the season even began.

Mississippi State is tied for first place of the conference with the Florida Gators going into the last two series of the SEC regular season. The Bulldogs are a consensus top 10 team in the land and are firmly in the thick of the SEC race. Florida, who swept Ole Miss in Gainesville over the weekend, travel to Tuscaloosa this weekend to take on a team that swept Auburn. The Gators will end their season with a home series against Kentucky.

Mississippi State closes their SEC regular season on the road in Athens versus Georgia — who took 2 of 3 against Kentucky this past weekend . The Bulldogs return to Dudy Noble in a big showdown against LSU in a series that will have huge implications on both the SEC West and the conference race to close things out.

This team was not supposed to be competing for back-to-back league championships. This was supposed to be a rebuilding season that featured many ups and downs. This team continues to defy the odds and naysayers with two more weekends until Hoover. Enjoy the ride.