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South Natchez alumnus recalls CWS trip

NATCHEZ — Will McRaney has a bit of a unique perspective on this year’s Mississippi State baseball team.

The 1981 graduate of South Natchez High School was a pitcher for the Bulldogs from 1983 until 1986, including the 1985 team that went to the College World Series.

That team was loaded with future Major League Baseball stars like Rafael Palmeiro, Bobby Thigpen, Jeff Brantley and Will Clark, and McRaney said it was fun to reminisce about the experience in light of the Bulldogs’ current CWS success.

“Omaha rolls out the red carpet, and the whole experience was nice,” McRaney recalled. “We won the first two games then got beat on a grounder off the shortstop’s legs with the bases loaded, and then we lost on a two-run home run versus Miami in the bottom of the ninth.”

Thigpen was the pitcher who yielded the two-run blast that eliminated the Bulldogs that year, and the loss was especially tough for McRaney — he was scheduled to pitch the next game, only to see his season end.

“I was watching the ball fly out, and my head just drops,” McRaney said. “It was the agony of defeat I guess. I just couldn’t believe it. The best team in those type of scenarios doesn’t always win.”

Now, McRaney said he has enjoyed keeping up with the 2013 Bulldogs, especially since their recent run of success. MSU is 2-0 in the CWS, fresh off a 5-4 win against Indiana Monday. The Bulldogs play again at 2 p.m. Friday on ESPN.

“They have a really good opportunity,” he said. “A lot of guys can swing the bat, and they’re so deep in pitching. Generally, most coaches have two to three pitchers that are their go-to guys, and Mississippi State probably has seven to eight guys, which I think gives them a big advantage.”

While he’s enjoyed seeing MSU keep winning, McRaney admitted that he’s gotten weary of the late-inning comeback attempts by other teams.

“We’ve been fortunate,” McRaney said. “It’s very stressful (to watch). You think the game is over, and all of a sudden, it’s not — not until the last out is made. But coach (John) Cohen has done a great job with the guys.”

McRaney said he’ll never forget playing with guys like Palmeiro, Thigpen, Brantley and Clark, but he said their stardom never got to their heads.

“They were just normal guys like the rest of us,” he said. “They went on and developed more after they finished playing (college ball). We played really hard for each other and for Coach (Ron) Polk, who we loved and respected. We had enormous support everywhere we went — we almost outdrew every (road) crowd we went to.”

McRaney is currently the director of the Evangelism Strategy Department of the Florida Baptist Convention in Jacksonville. He said he is grateful for all of the support of his Natchez friends during his playing days.

“It was kind of like they went along with me on the journey,” McRaney said. “I still have good friends from Natchez.”

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