Skip to content
Coaching legend Ron Polk weighs in as...

Coaching legend Ron Polk weighs in as MSU-Ole Miss prepare for battle

By: Parrish Alford - May 21, 2024

Dakota Jordan

Mississippi State's Dakota Jordan swings for the fences. Jordan was crowned the Boo Ferris Player of the Year in Mississippi for 2024. (Photo Courtesy of Mississippi State Athletics)

  • Magnolia Tribune’s Parrish Alford spoke to the former Mississippi State baseball skipper on the eve of the Bulldogs’ matchup against in-state rival Ole Miss at the SEC tournament Tuesday night.

If the curse does in fact last for two years, Mississippi State appears to be sailing through to the other side.

In the last game of the day, MSU and Ole Miss will meet for a fifth time this season in Tuesday’s single-elimination round of the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama. First pitch will come sometime between 8:30 and 11. That’s baseball.

The clubs are knotted at 2-2 on the season. Rebels took 2 of 3 games to claim the teams’ SEC series in Oxford April 12-14. State won the Governor’s Cup meeting in Pearl on May 1.

State is poised to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since winning the College World Series in 2021.

Southern Miss will likely be there too. The Golden Eagles have won nine of their last 10 and 12 of their last 15 to finish second in SunBelt at 37-18 overall, 20-10 in conference play.

Southern is sporting an RPI of 34, State of 22.

As for Mississippi’s college baseball branding, late rocker-philosopher Meat Loaf would tell us two out of three ain’t bad.

Ole Miss is still trying to find its way through the curse, after an improbable NCAA championship in 2022.

The Rebels won twice against then No. 2 Texas A&M in Oxford May 10-12, a surprising series victory that rekindled NCAA Tournament talk for Ole Miss.

But this past weekend, the Rebels were swept by struggling LSU – last year’s national champion. Ole Miss managed just six runs for the three games.

“Everybody struggles after the national championship. LSU struggled this year, Ole Miss struggled last year, and we struggled for two years,” former Mississippi State coach Ron Polk told Magnolia Tribune.

Mississippi State’s former baseball skipper sat down with Magnolia Tribune’s Parrish Alford on the eve of the Bulldogs’ contest with in-state rival Ole Miss (Photo Courtesy of Mississippi State Athletics)

Ole Miss finished the regular season 27-28 overall, 11-19 in the league. Thirteen SEC wins was thought to be the magic number, a theory that magnified the significance of the short trip to Baton Rouge.

The Rebels would likely have to win the whole thing in Hoover to gain an NCAA bid now. It’s an unlikely scenario for a team that has shown little pitching depth and sporadic hitting.

But the Rebels can throw a curve into State’s hopes to host a regional.

“We’ve got a great chance to host,” Polk said.

True, but that RPI could use a little shine.

Host talk aside there’s a lot of excitement for the Bulldogs’ resurgence. SEC coaches took note of it Monday by naming two Bulldogs – staring pitcher Khal Stephen (8-3, 3.25 ERA) and shortstop David Mershon – to the All-SEC first team.

Center fielder Dakota Jordan was named second team and also took home the Boo Ferriss Trophy, awarded to Mississippi’s top college player.

Jordan is hitting .363 with 17 home runs.

Ole Miss slugger Andrew Fischer, the Duke transfer with 20 home runs and 57 RBIs, was also named to the SEC’s second team.

“It was not very comfortable for us not to be in Hoover for the last two years, so at least we’re going to be able to play in the SEC tournament. I think our guys are excited about that because hardly anybody on the ball club has played in Hoover in the tournament,” Polk said.

It was unusual territory for the Mississippi State program and its fans.

Before this season the Bulldogs were a combined 53-56 overall, 18-42 in SEC play since winning the championship.

Fans don’t fully appreciate the demands of a 30-game SEC regular season, said Polk, 80, who stays active in baseball including some radio work with MSU.

(Photo by Beth Wynn /Mississippi State University)

“I don’t think our fans really realize how tough it is in this league, not only in baseball, but in all sports. They’re very happy when we do well, but the problem is, when you do well, they expect you to do well every year, and that’s just not going to happen,” he said.

MSU coach Chris Lemonis reached the College World Series in his first season with the Bulldogs in 2019. MSU was 12-4 and on track for more success when the season was cancelled in 2020.

Lemonis made the NCAA Tournament in three of his four seasons at Indiana prior to taking the job in Starkville.

Polk’s teams made the field 20 times in his 29 seasons at MSU. He also led Georgia Southern and Georgia to College World Series appearances.

The Transfer Portal and NIL have changed the landscape and now make that kind of sustained success even more difficult.

“It’s really bad for college athletics, bad for baseball. There’s so very little development of players like I used to do. You bring a kid in, redshirt him, bring him along, then by his junior year, he’s in the lineup. That doesn’t happen anymore because they’re going to be gone,” he said.

For now, the Bulldogs can live in the moment of reaching the other side of the post-College World Series curse.

“We’ve got all the components. We’ve got great starting pitching. Our bullpen has been up and down, but I think it’s been kind of finalized a little bit in the last week, so I think we can hold the lead. We’ve got a great chance to host,” Polk said.

About the Author(s)
author profile image

Parrish Alford

Parrish Alford brings the cumulative wisdom that comes from three decades of covering Mississippi sports to Magnolia Tribune. His outstanding contributions to sports reporting in the state have twice been recognized with Sports Writer of the Year awards. Alford currently serves as the associate editor of American Family News.