HOOVER, Ala. | Mississippi State's hopes of making a deep run here in the SEC Tournament likely hinge on today's matchup with No. 1 seed LSU. That means hopes hinge largely on the performance of MSU junior pitcher Chris Stratton.
The Tupelo product, who's 10-1 with a 2.16 ERA, will take the hill this afternoon for the seventh-seeded Bulldogs (35-21), who drilled Arkansas 9-1 yesterday (CLICK HERE). Stratton's availability for this game was never really in question, but coaches wanted to wait and make sure, and the decision came fairly quickly following the win Tuesday (CLICK HERE).
Here's how pitching coach Butch Thompson described the postgame process: "We got on the bus after the game, and I think Chris and I, everything has checked out every day since he started (against Kentucky). We've been pointing toward this, and I just confirmed with him on the bus while John (Cohen) was meeting with the media. Chris said, 'Oh yeah, I'm excited.' That's all I needed to hear. … There was conviction there, and coach checked back and forth with him. He's ready to go."
Last time Stratton faced LSU (42-14), it was the SEC opener for both teams (March 16). Stratton went 8 2/3 innings, striking out a career-high 17 while allowing just one run on four hits. He got a no-decision, though, as LSU won 3-2 in 10 innings.
"He was just on," Cohen said in recollection. "His command of his pitches was outstanding, and he really had four different pitches going on. When that's happening, you can get a lot of strikeouts. It was just a flawless performance, as good as anybody I've seen in college baseball in a long time."
It's probably too much to expect another 17-strikeout performance from Stratton today, but he and his coaches and his teammates are expecting the Tigers to have trouble with him. Most teams have had trouble with Stratton, who relishes the challenge of facing the top seed.
"I think it's a challenging outing," Thompson said, "and I appreciate how much Chris wants to meet against them again, out of respect for them, and how good he did."
• LSU will take a by-committee approach on the mound today, as freshman Aaron Nola (6-4, 4.01) will start but will not stay in very long (CLICK HERE).