HOOVER, Ala., – Despite winning the Southeastern Conference regular season championship and being projected as a lock for a national seed, Mississippi State’s John Cohen is leaving nothing to chance.
Cohen and the third-ranked Bulldogs are headed to the SEC Tournament with their sights set on claiming that title as well to remove any doubt for the NCAA Tournament selection committee on Monday.
“Some crazy things can happen in that room,” Cohen said. “I know our RPI isn’t as good as some others and there’s a lot of things that can go on in that room. Things can happen around the country so the easy thing to do is just to take care of our own business, do everything we can to win our games and let the chips fall.”
After receiving a first round bye as the tournament’s top seed, MSU will take on No. 9 seed Alabama in the second round at 4:30 p.m. on SEC Network. The Crimson Tide advanced by beating eighth-seeded Kentucky 5-2 on Tuesday.
It will be the fourth time the two teams have met this year. The Diamond Dogs defeated Alabama 12-5 and also 2-1 in a seven-inning game to take the series in Tuscaloosa late last month.
In fact, Alabama (32-24) the last team to beat the Bulldogs by rallying back for a walk-off 4-3 win in the first game of a doubleheader on April 30. Mississippi State’s bullpen walked the bases loaded, walked in the tying run and gave up the game-winning RBI single to Chance Vincent in extra innings.
The Diamond Dogs have reeled off 11 straight victories since and enter the postseason at 40-14-1.
“When we played (Alabama), we weren’t playing our best,” said MSU third baseman Gavin Collins. “We have to play with the utmost intensity and have to take every game seriously.”
The Bulldogs are just 3-7 against Alabama in the SEC Tournament and will be the first meeting against the Tide in Hoover since 2002. State holds a 62-48 all-time record in the SEC Tournament including seven titles, the last coming in 2012.
The Diamond Dogs will send junior right-hander Zac Houston to the mound today for his fifth start of the season. In 16 appearances, Houston is 4-0 with a 2.25 ERA, 27 strikeouts and 16 walks in 24 innings.
Alabama will start junior righty Geoffry Bramblett (5-3, 2.76 ERA). The Bulldogs scored five earned runs in six innings against Bramblett earlier this year.
Mississippi State’s middle infield depth could also receive a boost with the return of freshmen Luke Alexander and Hunter Stovall.
Alexander suffered a hamate injury in his left hand but Cohen is confident the Belmont native can play despite requiring surgery after the season. Stovall sustained a left leg injury on April 28 at Alabama but has resumed practicing this week.