June 22, 2019 11:17:31 PM
OMAHA, Neb. -- Jordan Westburg sat at his locker and stared into space.
Just minutes after the Mississippi State baseball team fell to Louisville 4-3 in Thursday's College World Series elimination game, the sophomore shortstop's face bore a ghostly look as if trying to reconcile what had transpired over the final two innings of the contest.
But the generally mild-mannered yet confident Westburg made one thing clear -- MSU will be back.
"It pisses me off," he told The Dispatch. "I hate losing. I'm a competitor down to the core and especially to lose like this with the team that we have is pretty crushing. But you just use it as motivation, fuel to the fire, and you come back in the fall and work as hard as you've ever worked to get back to this place and to flip the outcome and bring Mississippi State its first national title."
Following the loss, the college careers of seniors Jake Mangum, Elijah MacNamee and Cole Gordon have concluded. Underclassmen like junior reliever Colby White are headed off to the professional ranks. Junior catcher Dustin Skelton could soon follow.
But for what MSU loses in attrition, it will return more than enough to make a splash in 2020.
This year's sophomores -- Westburg, first baseman Tanner Allen, second baseman Justin Foscue and outfielders Rowdey Jordan and Josh Hatcher -- will all return next spring after playing meaningful innings this year.
Though he trailed off toward the end of 2019, Foscue showed promising pop with 14 home runs on the year coupled with a .331 batting average. He also flashed a penchant for double plays once he shifted from third to second base midway through the year -- fielding 23 on the season.
Allen was similarly prolific in the batter's box, boasting a .349 average with seven homers and 23 doubles -- the second-best mark on the team. His .997 fielding percentage was also tied for first with Skelton.
Despite struggling at the plate for much of the year, Jordan steadily climbed from his low point at .151 to finish the year hitting .290.
As for Hatcher, he proved a nice complementary piece in a rotational role with Gunner Halter at designated hitter down the stretch. He could take over in right field for the departed MacNamee.
Lastly, Westburg struggled at the plate over the final two months of the season but his 61 RBIs still ranked second on the team.
"We'll have some good players come back next year," Allen said. "We'll be strong and we'll be very good next year too."
Of the freshman returning, starting pitcher JT Ginn will be back in the rotation -- maybe even at the head of it -- next season. Perfect Game's National Freshman of the Year, Ginn finished 8-4 with a 3.13 ERA in 17 starts in his inaugural campaign.
He tossed six innings of three hit ball against the Cardinals Thursday before turning over a 2-0 lead to the MSU bullpen.
"JT will take care of business," Allen said. "With our season on the line as a freshman in front of all those people and those TV (cameras) the guy did an unbelievable job. That says a lot about him."
Behind him, classmates Brandon Smith, Eric Cerantola and Christian MacLeod could comprise the rest of the weekend rotation.
MacLeod is the most intriguing and unknown piece given he didn't see any action this year due to illness. A two-time second-team Collegiate Baseball Newspaper All-American in high school, he will bring a much needed left-handed arm to the group.
Returning juniors Gunner Halter and Riley Self will also likely see their roles increase at third base and out of the bullpen, respectively, while freshmen Luke Hancock, Hayden Jones and Landon Jordan's bats will be added bonus' to the lineup.
MSU coach Chris Lemonis, a known recruiting ace at his previous stops at Indiana and Louisville, will also bring his first full recruiting class to Starkville -- one sure to be stocked with talent.
"Young guys got to step up," Allen said. "We were freshmen at one point and we stepped up. So I'm sure we have a good group coming in."
With two-straight CWS appearances under their belts, next year's Bulldogs will look to become the first group in program history to make it to Omaha three-straight times.
"As many games as we've won, we've beat a lot of teams -- a lot of good teams," Rowdey Jordan said. "That feeling of winning, this year is just going to prepare us for next year and it's going to be exciting."
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch.
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