Atlanta Regional: Austin Peay-MSU Pregame

Previewing today’s NCAA Regional game between No. 4 seed Austin Peay (34-22) and No. 3 MSU (35-23). The game starts at 6 p.m. Central and will be televised by CSS. The loser plays the winner of the Georgia Tech-USM game on Sunday, and the winner of that game plays the winner of Austin Peay-MSU in the championship round, also on Sunday.

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ATLANTA | Let’s get to know the Austin Peay State Governors, shall we?

Chances are, the only thing you know about Austin Peay is that it has a humorous cheer – “Let’s go, Peay!” – and once had a basketball player named Fly Williams whose presence made the cheer even more chuckle-worthy.

These days, the Govs are giving their fans reason to cheer for the baseball team. The Ohio Valley Conference champs – who hail from Clarksville, Tenn. – stunned top seed (and host) Georgia Tech last night, 2-1. It was the Governors’ second NCAA tournament win in school history, and the first opening-round win. They’re now 2-6 in NCAA play.

Coach Gary McClure, the OVC coach of the year, was asked if yesterday’s win was the biggest in program history.

“I would say it has to be, probably. First we wanted to win a game in the regional, and we did that in the last one. I’ve been telling these kids when I’m recruiting them, we’re trying to get to the point where we’re special. We want to win a regional.”

And Austin Peay believes that can be accomplished. It’s certainly in fine position to make a run.

McClure was initially going to give the ball to his ace, Jeremy Dobbs, on Friday. But Thursday afternoon he changed his mind and threw Jack Snodgrass, who tossed seven innings of one-run ball to improve to 4-6. Snodgrass was the MVP of the OVC tournament last week.

So that means MSU gets to face Dobbs. When asked after the game last night who today’s starter would be, McClure was visibly excited when he said, “Oh yeah, absolutely, Jeremy Dobbs is going tomorrow. Absolutely.”

Dobbs, the OVC pitcher of the year, is 9-2 with a 3.43 ERA. In 86 2/3 innings, the junior left-hander has allowed 46 runs (33 earned), 84 hits, struck out 85 and walked 49. He’s allowed just two home runs, and opponents are hitting .253 against him.

What kind of help can he expect? Peay has been solid in several areas this season. It hits .303 as a team (fourth in the OVC), has a .449 slugging percentage (third), 46 home runs (second), 95 stolen bases (first, by a lot), and owns a fielding percentage of .961 (tied for third).

Against Georgia Tech, the Govs committed one error, turned two double plays, and left only three men on base. They had only four hits, but the big one was freshman second baseman Jordan Hankins‘ solo homer in the seventh to put Peay ahead for good.

“These are the right guys. They don’t play with any fear at all,” McClure said.

That sentiment was echoed by Snodgrass.

“We came in expecting to win,” he said. “The competition’s probably the best we’ve played all year, but I don’t think any of us are surprised.”

Some other notes and quotes regarding this matchup.

• First baseman John Hogan is the OVC’s co-leader in home runs (13) and paces the league in RBIs (62). He’s also hitting .316. Hankins’ .361 average leads the team and is sixth in the OVC.

• Reliever Ryne Harper is tied for second in the OVC with eight saves. In 29 appearances (two starts), he’s 6-2 with a 4.06 ERA.

• Austin Peay had three players named to the all-OVC first team, four to the second team, and three to the all-freshman team.

• MSU and Austin Peay met five times between 2005 and ’08, with the Bulldogs winning three of those games. McClure, who’s in his 22nd season as head coach, sees a very different looking MSU team than what he was used to.

“They’re just not a big physical, huge team, like we’re used to seeing Mississippi State back in the day,” he said.

• Austin Peay relief pitcher Zach Toney, who picked up his second save of the season last night, is from D’Iberville. His sister, Carol, just graduated from Mississippi State this spring.

“It’s a little mixed signals going on with my family,” Toney said. “She’s kind of pulling for them, but she really wants us to win. I have a lot of friends at Mississippi State.”