As you'll read in my opinion offering tomorrow, there is much at stake for Mississippi State when it hosts LSU this weekend, and a seemingly endless number of scenarios could play out regarding the SEC Tournament. MSU could win the Western Division, or it could miss the tourney for the fourth straight year.
Coach John Cohen is hoping his players can put all that aside for one night, because the Bulldogs (32-19) are traveling to Memphis. They take on the Tigers (27-23) at 6:30 at the beautiful AutoZone Park.
So, MSU is playing in a pro park on the road against a fairly dangerous team that has an RPI ranking of 108 (MSU is 27th). Staying focused could be a challenge.
"I think in some cases it might be difficult for our kids," Cohen said. "We have some older kids, and older kids have the ability to focus at a different level. That's what's really carried us through this nice stretch that we've had. We've got some older kids to say, listen, we've done this before, we've been through these stretches before, and we're going to focus on the task at hand, and that's got to be Memphis."
MSU is 4-1 in non-conference games not played at Dudy Noble Field this season, so this is nothing new to the Bulldogs. But again, there is a potentially bigger distraction involved this week as postseason dreams come close to being realized.
Cohen said there's a hunger among the older players especially to get into the SEC Tournament and beyond. That seems to be what has driven the Bulldogs on this late-season run, in which they've won eight of their last nine games.
"Coaches are there to guide and create the forum, but you've got to have players go out there and lead the way, and I really believe in these older kids – I believe in all of our kids, but the older kids are doing a great job leading by example," Cohen said.
Sophomore Kendall Graveman (5-0, 3.51 ERA) will start on the mound for State, and he'll be opposed by Memphis freshman Erik Schoenrock (2-3, 5.61), son of head coach Daron Schoenrock – who used to be an MSU assistant coach under Ron Polk.
Memphis hits .307, second in Conference USA, and can get guys on base. However, its team ERA is 4.91 (last in CUSA).