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Going back-to-back was an expectation for some, but making the SEC Tournament and competing to host an NCAA regional was an expectation for all. Instead, the season is over and it comes with Mississippi State’s fourth sweep – this one at the hands of No. 1 Tennessee.
The Vols (49-7, 25-5 SEC) helped the Bulldogs (26-30, 9-21) reach a low-point by taking the opener 27-2. However, Mississippi State competed Friday night en route to a 4-3 loss. Tennessee took the finale 10-5 on Saturday.
Here are three takeaways from the series.
HUNTER HINES: How the MSU freshman made an immediate impact
ONTO FOOTBALL SEASON: What we learned about Mississippi State this spring
First to worst
Mississippi State finished last in the SEC.
Players leaving for the MLB played a part as did injuries to the pitching staff, but Mississippi State underperformed. The Bulldogs were expected to compete for an SEC West title, and that was out of the picture in early April.
Coming off a season in which Mississippi State accomplished something it never had, it responded with a season reminiscent of 2015. It’s the first time in seven years the Bulldogs have finished under .500.
Coach Chris Lemonis has said the goal is to consistently be in contention to host a regional, but Mississippi State hasn’t been ranked since March 14.
The Bulldogs own a conference-worst 6.03 ERA thanks in large part to allowing the second-most walks.
“I’m just really disappointed,” Lemonis said. “It’s been a crazy year. We’ve underperformed.”
Preston Johnson leaves on high note
Mississippi State’s core is filled with upperclassmen who will likely depart for the MLB if drafted. Pitcher Preston Johnson should be among those.
Johnson entered the season coming out of the bullpen, but with injuries and struggles in the rotation, he became a Friday night starter.
He finished with a 5.47 ERA but capped the year with what Lemonis considered Johnson’s best performance.
Johnson went 7⅔ innings Friday against Tennessee, allowing three of his four runs in the eighth. He was over 100 pitches, but with a struggling bullpen, Lemonis felt keeping Johnson in was his best chance.
Preston Johnson admitted he was tired after recording two outs in the eighth.
Chris Lemonis on leaving him in: We just felt like, shoot, he got two quick outs. He was so good in the seventh.
Said Johnson had pushed him last week to stay in longer.
— Stefan Krajisnik (@skrajisnik3) May 21, 2022
Johnson, a Crystal Springs, Mississippi, native, was emotional postgame when reflecting on his career at Mississippi State.
"It's been special,” Johnson said. “I've made a lot of connections, a lot of friends that will be in my wedding, that I'll talk to for the rest of my life. Just the history we made last year, that's something special and something that I'll never forget. It's something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life."
Tennessee is as advertised
Perhaps this series served as a changing of the guard in college baseball. Mississippi State watched as Tennessee reminded everyone of its potential to claim college baseball’s throne.
The Vols own most every offensive category in the SEC. They have the best batting average by a 20-point margin and have 30 more home runs and nearly 100 more runs than the next best teams.
And Tennessee’s offense might be not be its strength. The Vols have a team ERA below 2.50. Opponents are hitting below .200.
Lemonis knows what a championship team looks like. He thinks this Tennessee team could be the best one yet.
“That team has got a chance to win,” Lemonis said. “They’re the odds-on favorite, I can tell you that. We haven’t played anybody like that since I’ve been here.”
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: What we learned in Tennessee baseball's sweep at Mississippi State