By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
There are two answers to the question of how Mississippi State has suddenly started winning baseball games.
One answer is this: Pitching. It’s the easily quantifiable answer, the one you can support with a single stat sheet.
MSU won the SEC Tournament on Sunday with a 3-0 win over Vanderbilt, and that score alone tells you how strong this pitching staff is. Six games in six days, and those guys throw a shutout.
The Bulldogs have one of the best pitchers in the country in Chris Stratton, and one of the best bullpens, too. That and solid defense will take a team a long way, so long as they can scratch out two or three runs, which State’s offense usually manages to do.
MSU has won eight of its last nine games, and during those wins the Bulldogs have averaged 4.9 runs per game. That number is skewed by an 11-run showing against Kentucky and a nine-run outburst versus Arkansas. The other six wins all were by three runs or less.
The team ERA during the eight wins: 1.48.
The second answer to the question of why MSU is hot is an answer that causes cynics to sneer, and it’s certainly something that can be hard to pin down. But if you see it enough, it becomes almost tangible.
Pick your word: Grit, toughness, resiliency, perseverance. It’s one or all of those intangibles that the Bulldogs seem to possess in spades. It’s why MSU has won its last four one-run games, why catcher Mitch Slauter is able to squat behind the plate for 55 innings over six days, why this team was suddenly able to catch a second wind after being exhausted on Thursday in a loss to Kentucky.
“We kind of weathered the storm – that’s one of our little mottos we’ve got going on,” said tournament MVP Adam Frazier.
The storm was gathering ominously in mid-April, when MSU was 5-10 in SEC play and just hoping it could qualify for the 10-team SEC Tournament. Since then, it has won 16 of 21 SEC games, and with the five wins here, MSU’s 21 victories over SEC foes is tops in the league.
Up next are the NCAA regionals, and State will know its destination today. The regionals are a four-team, double-elimination format, and they take no longer than four days to play.
Child’s play for this bunch. Between its endless supply of both pitching and grit – or whatever you want to call it – the Bulldogs could make a serious run at a College World Series berth.
“It wouldn’t surprise me at all,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “Actually, I’d bet on it.”
Brad Locke covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.