There are 1,475 miles that separate Arizona’s Hi Corbett Field from Dudy Noble Field, where the Wildcats will take on Mississippi State in the Starkville Super Regional this weekend.
Yet despite the distance, there is plenty of familiarity between the two schools that are meeting for the third time in as many years.
The Bulldogs traveled to Tucson in 2014 and left with a 1-2 record against Arizona. The Wildcats made a return trip to Starkville last season and were swept by MSU in a two-game series, 4-2 and 6-2.
The two programs will rekindle things on the diamond at 5 p.m. today on ESPN2 beginning a best of three series with a trip to the College World Series at stake.
“In a lot of ways, (Arizona) kind of reminds me of our situation with some older guys at the top who have had some great years,” said MSU coach John Cohen. “They play with a little chip on their shoulder, which is something I like. They didn’t have the success in previous years they wanted to have and the older kids want to win. Jay (Johnson) has come in and done a great job with their program. I think it is kind of a similar story. It’s two teams on a similar mission who are trying to prove something.”
The Wildcats (42-21) and Bulldogs (44-16-1) have met 15 times previously but this will be the first time they have tangled in the postseason. State holds an 11-4 lead in the series including a 3-0 mark in Starkville.
Bulldog starting pitcher Austin Sexton enjoyed some success against Arizona last season. Sexton struck out a then career-high 10 batters and no walks through 5 2/3 innings.
“Hopefully I can not walk anyone and not give up a home run and just make my defense play behind me,” Sexton said. “It doesn’t matter how many strikeouts I get, as long as I keep my team in position to win then that’s all that matters to me.”
Neither team has announced its pitching plans for the weekend. Cohen stated that Zac Houston would not draw the start on Friday but could be in the mix for Game 2. He mentioned Sexton, Dakota Hudson and Konnor Pilkington as the candidates for today’s start.
Johnson was also coy with how he would use staff ace Nathan Bannister (11-2, 2.63 ERA). Bannister was the Most Outstanding Player of the Lafayette Regional earning two wins in two starts, kthrowing 198 pitches over 14 innings of work.
“He’s definitely going to pitch,” Johnson said. “He’s going to be in the thick of it in terms of how we go about attacking the weekend.”
MSU left fielder and closer Reid Humphreys, who left Sunday’s game after being hit in the right hand during the third inning, will be a game time decision according to Cohen but did practice on Thursday.