PALO ALTO, Cal. Q There wasn’t any fanfare when the Mississippi State Bulldogs slipped in to their hotel at 10 p.m. Tuesday. That won’t be the case at 5 p.m. today.
The Bulldogs (37-22, No. 3 seed) are expected to play in front of an estimated crowd of 3,500 at Sunken Diamond on the Stanford University campus. The opposition will be provided by the Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara (32-18, No. 4 seed).
“I don’t know if there is a tougher regional anywhere,” said Mississippi State head coach Ron Polk. “I’ve looked at the others and I don’t think anybody has a regional that’s better or deeper.”
The MSU-UC Santa Barbara contest will be sandwiched by the Florida State (56-17, No. 1 seed)-Northeast Illinois (31-27, No. 6) opener at 1 p.m. (CST) and the Stanford (39-17, No. 2 seed)-Cal State Northridge (49-16, No. 5 seed) game at 9 p.m. (CST).
If Mississippi State defeats the Gauchos, the Bulldogs will face the Stanford-Cal State Northridge winner at 9 p.m. (CST) Friday. An opening game loss pits the Bulldogs against the Florida State-Northeast Illinois winner at 5 p.m. (CST) Friday.
“We know a little more about them than we did,” Polk said. “They’re a team that can score a lot of runs. They hit .327 for the year, but they hit .335 in the Big West Conference and that’s a strong conference.”
Four Big West Conference teams were awarded NCAA Tournament bids, trailing only the ACC’s five and the SEC’s six entries. The conference also includes defending national champion Cal State Fullerton, who lost two of three games to the Gauchos.
“Florida State comes in here the No. 1 seed and that’s certainly deserved,” Polk said. “Stanford has won something like 19 games (16) in a row. (Cal State) Northridge has won 49 games. That’s more than anybody and they’re a No. 5 seed. It’s a tough regional.”
The question for the Gauchos is the pitching. The three-man rotation of Seth Bean, Bryan Noles and David Uris are a combined 18-6 in 39 starts. However, none has an earned run average below 4.87.
Bean has the most strikeouts, with 63, but it came in 100 innings. Each of the three starters averages giving up at least one hit per inning and only hard-throwing reliever John Minton (3-1, 20K in 22 IP) has impressive numbers.
“I don’t think that means a whole lot, because it’s a very good offensive conference,” Polk said. “Plus, you know everybody’s going to throw their ace in the first game and everybody has to have an ace or they wouldn’t be here. We’re not sure who it will be, but we’ve got reports on each of them.”
It’s no surprise the Bulldogs will counter with their ace, left-hander Eric DuBose, who is coming off a 12-strikeout, winning performance against Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament. He was named to the All-SEC team last week.
“I’m excited about the opportunity,” DuBose said. “One of my goals was to pitch the opener of the regional tournament this year.”