By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – There is plenty of excitement about Mississippi State hosting an NCAA regional for the first time in 10 years, but a look at the three teams coming here this weekend should have a sobering effect.
The No. 14-ranked Bulldogs learned Monday that South Alabama, Mercer and Central Arkansas also will participate in the Starkville Regional. MSU is familiar with all three teams, but especially Central Arkansas, which came into Dudy Noble Field the weekend of March 8-10 and took two of three games.
MSU and UCA, the No. 4 seed, will meet at 7 p.m. Friday following No. 2 South Alabama versus No. 3 Mercer. The double-elimination regional will end either Sunday or Monday.
The Bears (39-20) will roll in here after winning the Southland Conference Tournament. They outscored MSU 14-8 over the final two games of their series, and those turned out to be State’s only two non-conference losses of the season.
“They’re a good, scrappy team,” MSU shortstop Adam Frazier said. “They’re going to fight and bring intensity every game. I guess we understand how to play them now, and hopefully we can come out on top this time.”
Senior pitcher Kendall Graveman, who was touched for four runs in 52⁄3 innings by UCA in the series finale, said he thinks the Bulldogs were looking ahead to starting SEC play the next weekend.
“To be focused is one thing that we’re really focusing on this week, is to lock in on baseball only and really try to get going,” Graveman said.
Aaron Fitt of Baseball America wrote that MSU has the toughest of the 16 regionals. Coach John Cohen was quick to trot out the RPI argument to back up that claim.
South Alabama, which until recently was in the discussion as a host team, has an RPI rank of 17th. Mercer is 29th, while Central Arkansas is 62nd.
“So we’re going to have to pitch well, play really good defense, and treat this like another SEC weekend. Because essentially that’s what it is,” Cohen said. “That’s the level of competition that we’re going to be playing.”
MSU won at South Alabama, 6-4, on April 2. It played Mercer in Starkville last season, taking two out of three games.
So scouting these teams won’t be too taxing of a chore for the Bulldogs.
“It’s something you can’t replicate on paper. You can look at as many scouting reports as you want, but to actually go out and play these guys is different,” Graveman said.
This is MSU’s third consecutive regional appearance under Cohen, who’s in his fifth year as head coach. State won the Atlanta Regional at Georgia Tech two years ago, and it was eliminated in the Tallahassee Regional at Florida State last season.
The winner of the Starkville Regional will play the winner of the Charlottesville Regional, hosted by Virginia. The Cavaliers are the No. 6 national seed, so they would host the super regional round – scheduled for June 7-10 – if they advance.
At Dudy Noble Field, Starkville Friday
Game 1: Mercer (43-16) vs.
South Alabama (42-18), 2 p.m.
G2: Central Arkansas (39-20) at
Mississippi State (43-17), 7 p.m.
G3: G1 loser vs. G2 loser
G4: G1 winner vs. G2 winner
G5: G3 winner vs. G4 loser
G6: G4 winner vs. G5 winner
Monday, June 3
x-G7: G4 winner vs. G5 winner