By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Mississippi State got caught taking a peek at the big picture this past weekend.
That’s what shortstop Adam Frazier said Sunday, after the Bulldogs rallied for a 7-6 victory over rival Ole Miss. It was a nice win, but the Rebels still won the series, and now MSU has a tougher path to navigate to achieve one of its big-picture goals.
That goal: Host an NCAA regional for the first time in 10 years. Projections I saw last week had MSU as a host, but the series loss to Ole Miss – State’s fifth SEC series loss of the season – could change that.
With one weekend of SEC play remaining, MSU is 37-15 overall, 14-13 in SEC play. It’s tied with Ole Miss for third in the Western Division and fifth overall. A sweep of South Carolina this weekend – the series begins Thursday in Starkville – could give the Bulldogs a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament and put them squarely back in the host discussion.
That’s something the players can’t dwell on. It’s a hard lesson they learned in Oxford.
“Winning this game today, we know we’ve got a realistic shot of actually hosting a regional,” Frazier said Sunday. “Coming in we had that too much on our minds, and they just brought us back down to Earth yesterday. But we can build off this, especially the way we did it.”
Kids who are Frazier’s age know exactly what the score is these days. Standings and scenarios are readily available on their phones. So they know how little wiggle room there is in the standings.
Getting swept by South Carolina could drop MSU as low as ninth in the league – mathematically speaking. That would require some upsets, like Ole Miss over LSU and Alabama over Vanderbilt.
Conversely, if MSU sweeps South Carolina and LSU wins at least one against Ole Miss, then State gets that No. 4 tournament seed and the bye that comes with it.
The players all know this, and coach John Cohen knows they know it, although he said he doesn’t think the bigger picture is what derailed them against Ole Miss.
“It’s a rivalry,” Cohen said. “I think our kids were pressing a little bit, and that’s my fault.”
It will be tempting for the Bulldogs to press too hard this week, knowing what’s at stake. It’s Cohen’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen, and given the collective maturity of this group, you’d expect them to be properly focused on the present instead of the uncertain future.
Because even if MSU doesn’t host a regional, it’s still going to be in the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive year. As far as the picture goes, that’s a big deal.
Brad Locke (email@example.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at DJournal.com.