By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – If Mississippi State can keep hammering away and have some fun this weekend, it could find itself in Omaha.
No. 14 MSU opens the NCAA super regional here at noon today against No. 6 Virginia (50-10). The winner of the best-of-three series advances to the College World Series, and the Bullogs (46-18) are looking to make their ninth trip there and first since 2007.
Whether State can reach another CWS will depend a lot on its mental and psychological state this weekend. Because just six days ago, the players lost touch with who they were and what got them to this point.
During Sunday’s loss to Central Arkansas during the Starkville Regional, the Bulldogs were uncharacteristically tense, a thin-lipped group that got away from its usual approach.
“Sunday night, it was kind of a weird feeling,” said senior pitcher Kendall Graveman, who’ll start today’s game. “That’s not who we were. We kind of played tense. The dugout didn’t feel relaxed.
“We got down, and there was just a bad feeling in the dugout.”
After the game, the Bulldogs vowed, basically, to just have fun. They believe when they do that, they’re at their best.
So they came back on Monday and finished off Central Arkansas to win the regional.
“We had a team meeting before the game and said, look, this is what’s on the line, but we’ve got to go out there and have fun at the same time. I think people did that,” first baseman Wes Rea said.
Outfielder Hunter Renfroe, who on Thursday potentially made himself a lot of money by being drafted 13th overall by San Diego, said, “You’re a big kid playing a little kid’s game. If you’re not having fun doing something, it’s not worth doing.
“As long as we’re sitting there having fun, hitting the ball hard and pitching well, we’ve got a chance to win a lot of ballgames still to come.”
Something else that helped MSU on Monday was remembering all the work that was put in during the fall. Graveman and fellow pitcher Luis Pollorena brought out a couple of sledgehammers, which in the fall were awarded each week to the player who’d worked the hardest.
“That’s just a symbol just reminding us of all the work we’ve gone through and how long this process has been, to know you don’t want it to be over,” Rea said.
The Bulldogs certainly are not ready for this season to end. Given how well they’ve played of late – 10 wins in their last 13 games – they should be a tough out for Virginia.
Over its last 14 games, MSU has been hitting .303, which is 10 points above its season average.
So between that, a stingy bullpen and a solid defense, the Bulldogs roll in here feeling as good about themselves as they have all year.
And with Sunday’s lesson learned, they plan on keeping the fun times rolling.
“The moment you’re uptight and tense,” Rea said, “is just when everything goes bad for you.”
Sunday’s game is set for 6 p.m.
A third game, if needed, will be Monday at 3 p.m. There’s a 30 percent chance of rain today and Sunday and a 60 percent chance on Monday.