HOOVER, Ala. On paper, this is a good Mississippi State baseball team as a 37-22 record indicates.
But you couldn’t have proved it by this week’s performance in the SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs slipped out quietly in three games, finishing sixth in the eight-team field.
Defensively, the Bulldogs had seven errors that led to three unearned runs. Two of those unearned runs were the difference in losses to Florida and Kentucky.
Offensively, the Bulldogs got virtually nothing from the No. 2-3-4 slots, as Rusty Thoms, Brian Clark and Rob Hauswald went a combined 3-for-25 in the tourney.
That wasn’t the worst of it, either. Blake Anderson and David Hayman combined to go 2-for-20, with 10 strikeouts, in the No. 7-8 slots.
The pitching wasn’t bad, but as reliever Scott Polk said, “It wasn’t our best days, not by a longshot.”
After Eric DuBose and Keith Dilgard, the club’s No. 3 starter is uncertain. It could be David Hooten or Van Johnson. It’s probably Polk, who had a strong outing Friday in the loss to Kentucky.
And, get ready for this, those tangibles aren’t the most alarming thing about this Mississippi State team.
It’s the intangibles, or lack thereof, that are frightening. The Bulldogs appear emotionless to the point of apathy and on top of that, Lady Luck has turned away and smiled elsewhere.
The bottom line: The Bulldogs have lost six of the last nine starts.
The players are concerned. The coaches are concerned. The support staff is concerned. The concern is so obvious, even the press corps can see it.
“We’re not playing like a good team right now,” said infielder Brad Freeman, the only MSU player to have a solid (6-for-9, three doubles) offensive series. “We’re disappointed with how we played here.”
Even head coach Ron Polk said, “It’s a team with experience, but that experience hasn’t shown late in the year in terms of getting it done.
“We’re getting to the edge of getting it done, but for whatever reason, we’re not getting it done. That’s very disappointing.”
There’s still hope for MSU
Despite this week’s wipeout, a huge incentive remains for the Bulldogs. The Monday announcement (2 p.m.) of the NCAA Tournament brackets should provide new life for a program that’s missed the party for the past two years.
The coaches and players will be stunned if they aren’t included in the 48-team field. Expect the Bulldogs to be a No. 3 or No. 4 seed in a regional.
“If we don’t get selected, we have no one but ourselves to blame,” Ron Polk said. “We’ve had every opportunity to convince them we should be in the tournament.”
The selection committee has indicated to SEC leadership of their intention to spread out the league’s six or seven berths. That means the Bulldogs will play at Clemson, Texas, Texas Tech, Wichita State or Stanford.
As a No. 3 or 4 seed, it’s more likely for the Bulldogs to end up in the Longhorn State than anywhere else.
“I’d love to go to Texas Tech,” Freeman said. “I lived for a while in Lemesa, Texas, and my grandparents on Dad’s side still live over there.
“But right now, none of us really care where we go. We just want to go anywhere and show that we’re a better team than what we played here.”
Chris Burrows covers college baseball for the Daily Journal.