Gary Henderson Should Be Commended For Salvaging The 2018 Mississippi State Baseball Season

Omaha, NE - JUNE 29: Game three of the College World Series Championship Series between the Arizona Wildcats and the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers is under a weather delay on June 29, 2016 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
Omaha, NE - JUNE 29: Game three of the College World Series Championship Series between the Arizona Wildcats and the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers is under a weather delay on June 29, 2016 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images) /

Gary Henderson’s time as the interim head coach of Mississippi State baseball saved the 2018 season from being notably awful

Gary Henderson saved the 2018 Mississippi State baseball season. There’s really no other way to put it. After Andy Cannizaro was canned for a scandal, this baseball season could have gone much differently for the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

It would have been really easy for the Bulldogs to simply pack it up and get ready for next year. But that’s not what the 2018 Mississippi State baseball team did. With Gary Henderson as their interim head coach, the Bulldogs proved to everyone that they could win against any sort of circumstances.

The Bulldogs did just that this season.

Mississippi State made an improbable run. At one point, this team held a 14-15 overall record and was 2-7 against Southeastern Conference teams. The Bulldogs rebounded, finished down the stretch strong, and made it into the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.

After starting with that abysmal record, MSU went 17-10 overall and 13-8 in SEC play to finish out the season. The Bulldogs turned things around quickly. Now, they’re set up for a chance to battle for the Tallahassee Regional and an opportunity to make a run to Omaha.

How did the Mississippi State baseball team get to this point?

The Mississippi State baseball team’s trip down to Hattiesburg didn’t go so well. The Bulldogs fell short and were swept. Things appeared bleak for the Bulldogs and that was before John Cohen removed Andy Cannizaro from the helm of the MSU baseball program.

I was sitting in a bar in Starkville the night that everything around the Cannizaro situation unraveled. My fiancée and I were there to grab drinks and celebrate, hoping to enjoy a night out in Starkville.

And we certainly did that, but the atmosphere and general tone in discussions around the Mississippi State baseball team were very different from what I had grown accustomed to in my time living in Starkville. There was no optimism. There was no hope.

The only thing present was the fact that Mississippi State no longer had a head coach. The man who embraced everything about the Bulldogs, was shooting in a contest against Blair Schaefer to show support for the women’s basketball team, and took on an attitude of “Starkville vs Everybody” was fired.

He was gone.

Not because of any sort of lack of success on the field but because of a scandal and things off of the field.

And everything about the future of the Mississippi State baseball program was up in the air. Fans were questioning where MSU would go from here and how the Bulldogs would recover from losing the face of the program.

The rest of this season would still have to be played. And John Cohen entrusted the rest of the Bulldogs’ season to Gary Henderson.

But Mississippi State’s next group of games were all away from home.

The Bulldogs weren’t going to be able to play at home in the new Dudy Noble Field because of construction on the stadium. To be able to continue playing, MSU had to hit the road. In that process, the Bulldogs traveled across Texas, spending the first three weeks of the college baseball season out on the road.

While away from MSU’s campus, with Gary Henderson now at the helm, the Bulldogs showed resiliency. They found success at times and, even though they slipped up in two games that they should not have, the Mississippi State baseball team started proving that they could overcome tough circumstances.

After starting the season with a sweep, Mississippi State went 6-2 away from home over a two week span. In that timeframe, MSU won those six games by an average of 5 runs per game. Their two losses came via an average of 3 runs per game.

In this trip and in that process, the Bulldogs began proving that this season wasn’t over. Mississippi State wanted to win and, under Gary Henderson’s direction, the Bulldogs were going to do just that.

Mississippi State’s return home could have been better.

The Bulldogs were a mixed bag when they made it back to Starkville. They strung together a few wins but lost embarrassingly to teams like the Utah Valley Wolverines. Before the Bulldogs hosted Vanderbilt, they went down to Biloxi and lost by 6 runs to Southeastern Louisiana.

And then the losses kept coming.

Mississippi State was swept by Vanderbilt and it wasn’t a particularly pretty series. The Bulldogs lost the first two games of the series by a combined score of 15-1. The momentum that MSU had built up on the road didn’t seem to return home with them.

And when the Bulldogs hit the road again to take on Missouri and LSU, things seemed to keep spiraling. At the end of the LSU series, Mississippi State found itself with a 14-15 overall record and a 2-7 SEC record.

State was struggling to keep its head above water. The Bulldogs were staring down the possibility of not making it into the SEC Tournament. And the NCAA Tournament was totally out of the question. There was no way that this team would get in if they continued to play like this.

But, the second half of the season was considerably better than the first half.

Gary Henderson’s team responded. Instead of rolling over and giving up, the Bulldogs showed just how resilient they could be. Mississippi State won 17 of its next 27 games. That started with a midweek game against Southern University and spilled over into taking two from the No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels.

After a rough weekend against Auburn, the Bulldogs responded by sweeping the No. 3 Arkansas Razorbacks and beat Ole Miss again. Mississippi State continued to trade wins at times with teams that they shouldn’t have because of how good their opponents were, but the Bulldogs had no problems taking down tough competition.

And of course, to close out the regular season, Mississippi State swept through the No. 1 ranked Florida Gators with no struggle at all. The Bulldogs won all three games by a combined score of 31-13.

MSU fell short in the SEC Tournament and dropped a game to LSU, but that held no bearing on Mississippi State getting into the NCAA Tournament.

Now, the Mississippi State baseball team is hoping to ride that momentum all the way to Omaha. The trip to Tallahassee won’t be easy, Mississippi State will face three teams that could be tough there.

Still, what the Bulldogs have accomplished under Gary Henderson’s direction this season is noteworthy. It’s something that this team should be proud of, regardless of how the rest of this season goes.

Next: 18 Questions For The 2018 Version Of The Mississippi State Bulldogs

But, you know, it’d be nice to get a few more wins and maybe even a trip to Omaha. Given that Gary Henderson has never been there as a head coach before, it’d be great to see him get there this year with a team that he helped salvage.