STARKVILLE – John Cohen isn’t sure whether there will be a playoff atmosphere in the stands this weekend, but he knows there will be one on the Dudy Noble Field turf.
His No. 24 Mississippi State squad closes out the regular season with a three-game set against No. 14 South Carolina, starting with tonight’s 6:30 tilt. Friday’s game is also at 6:30, while Saturday’s is at 2 p.m.
The Bulldogs (38-15, 14-13 SEC) and Gamecocks (38-14, 16-10) are not only seeking a series win this weekend, but the rewards that come with it. MSU has a little more work to do, however, being tied for fifth in the overall SEC standings, two-and-a-half games behind South Carolina.
For State to earn the No. 4 SEC Tournament seed and a first-round bye, it must sweep this weekend. The Gamecocks merely need one win.
Then there’s the matter of hosting an NCAA regional, and the winner of this series should have a better shot at earning such a berth.
“You want to go into weekends like this at the end of the year where everything matters. You want to be totally in the thick of it,” said Cohen, MSU’s fifth-year coach.
With so much at stake, Cohen said he’d love to see the stands filled up, but he knows that might not happen with many students having gone home for the summer.
“There’s no question, having a great home crowd, it makes a difference,” Cohen said. “You can say all you want to that it doesn’t – it does.”
More important than the attendance figure for MSU is the players’ ability to not get too caught up in the bigger picture. The Bulldogs lost two of three at Ole Miss last weekend, which damaged their hopes of hosting.
“Baseball is a humbling sport, and if you get to thinking too far ahead or too far behind, it’ll really stomp on you,” closer Jonathan Holder said. “We’ve got our heads straight now, and we’re going to take every game one game at a time, one pitch at a time.
“If we take care of a few more things, the future will open up for us, then we can think about that when it gets here.”
MSU and South Carolina appear to be evenly matched teams. Their postseason résumés are certainly similar: In addition to having similar records, MSU has an RPI of 10, one spot ahead of the Gamecocks. State is 19-15 against top-100 RPI teams, while SC is 19-11.
South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook believes both teams should host a regional, but like MSU, his team is taking nothing for granted.
“We’re going down there as the underdog, to be quite honest with you,” Holbrook said.
“You can’t predict wins or losses,” Cohen said, “but my hope is that our kids put everything they can into these three games, because they know what’s on the line.”