By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Chris Stratton will take the mound for Mississippi State today, and that’s exactly who Samford wants to see.
So says Samford’s coach, Casey Dunn. His third-seeded Bulldogs will face No. 2 seed MSU at 11 a.m. today to open NCAA regional play at Dick Howser Stadium on the Florida State campus.
Stratton (11-1, 2.21 ERA), a junior right-hander from Tupelo, is the SEC pitcher of the year and a Louisville Slugger first-team All-American. He faces a Samford lineup that’s batting .307 with 62 home runs, which ranks sixth in the nation.
“If we can go up and justify some of the numbers that I think people question about our team, it’s an opportunity to do that against a really good guy and a guy we have a lot of respect for,” Dunn said.
He added that closing the regular season against some quality arms at Oklahoma should help Samford’s hitters this weekend.
There is the thought that perhaps Cohen should hold Stratton for the second game, which if MSU wins today would probably be top seed Florida State. But he wants to use his ace and said he has a lot of respect for Samford’s lineup, which Cohen put on a level with Kentucky and LSU’s lineups.
“I’m a big believer in putting your best foot forward,” Cohen said, “and the matchup’s really good for us, too, with as many right-handers as I think Samford could potentially put in their lineup.”
Samford will start right-hander Charles Basford (9-2, 3.95) on the mound instead of ace Josh Martin, who pitched twice in the Southern Conference Tournament, including Sunday.
UAB head coach Brian Shoop spent seven seasons as an MSU assistant (1983-89), and Cohen played for State during the latter part of that tenure. Shoop, in his sixth season at UAB, has led the Blazers (32-28) to their first NCAA appearance in 21 years.
His starting pitcher against Florida State today, senior Michael Busby (5-4, 3.90), has a strong MSU connection, too: He played for the Bulldogs from 2008-09 before transferring.
“If we have a guy that would be able to handle playing in front of a big crowd in a big moment – we have a lot that could not – he would be one that might be able to,” Shoop said.
Graveman healing up
MSU righty Kendall Graveman (4-4, 2.92), who’s been battling a groin injury, is expected to start on Saturday.
“We feel like he’s going to be able to pitch in Game 2, depending on who that is,” Cohen said. “If we feel like there’s a better matchup, we might go in a different direction. Certainly we feel better about his health than we did two weeks ago.”