By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
HOOVER, Ala. – Mississippi State must now sit and wait until Monday to find out if it’s for sure going to play in its first NCAA Regional in four years. But there’s not much anxiety about it.
The Bulldogs, who are 34-23 overall after their quick exit from the SEC Tournament, feel confident that their rampésumampé is strong enough to earn an at-large bid. The entire field will be announced Monday on ESPN.
State went 14-16 to finish in a three-way tie for second in the Western Division, and it owns wins over Florida, South Carolina and Vanderbilt, all of which are ranked in the top four in the country by Baseball America.
MSU’s consistently been in the 20s in its RPI rankings and had Florida cornered in Wednesday’s first round before losing 7-5.
“I’ve never sat on that committee or made a bunch of tough decisions, but I think when you look at our full body of work, I like to think we’re in the tournament,” third-year coach John Cohen said.
Cohen not only expects MSU to make the field, he expects for some special things to happen. The Bulldogs lost two of three at home to LSU to close out the regular season and didn’t play particularly well Thursday, and starting pitching is still a vexing issue, but he believes in this team.
“I really believe this group can catch fire, especially with pitching and defense at a premium in the postseason,” he said. “I think our kids, when you get them in a tournament, we have a chance to win games, and I think we have a chance to win a regional.”
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, whose team has a shot at hosting a regional, looks at MSU and sees an NCAA team.
“They played their way in, and they deserve it,” he said.
Vickerson finds stroke
– Entering the tournament, senior Nick Vickerson was 5 of 22 at the plate his previous seven games. In two games here, he was 3 of 7 with four RBIs, and all three hits went for extra bases.
He had a two-run triple and solo homer against Florida, and he knocked in State’s first run Thursday with a double in the fourth inning.
“I think I got a little more aggressive,” Vickerson said. “The big park with these new bats, nobody is getting pitched around this weekend.”
Stratton gets work
– Sophomore Chris Stratton has struggled as a starting pitcher this year, and it looked like he wouldn’t get a chance to throw in Hoover. But Cohen put him in for the ninth inning against Arkansas, and he retired the side in 18 pitches with a strikeout.
“We’re really proud of what he did today,” Cohen said. “His last three or four starts were not what he wanted them to be, or what we wanted them to be, for whatever reason.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.