Atlanta Regional: MSU-Southern Miss Pregame

Previewing today’s NCAA Regional game between Mississippi State (34-23) and Southern Miss (39-17).

ATLANTA | Mississippi State’s fortunes have largely ridden on the arms of its pitchers, but here’s a bit of a mind-blowing stat: In SEC games (32 in all, counting the tournament), MSU is 7-10 when its starting pitcher lasts at least four innings, 6-7 when he lasts at least five. When the starting is pulled after less than four innings, State is 7-8.

That speaks to the work of the bullpen, which has easily been the strongest part of this team. Coach John Cohen said yesterday that he will do whatever it takes to get the most out of his pitching this weekend, even if it means bringing in closer Caleb Reed, who’s had three outings of five innings or more.

Still, Cohen would love to get a lengthy outing by today’s starter, sophomore left-hander Luis Pollorena (6-5, 4.44 ERA). Pollorena has struggled as a starter but feels more comfortable in the role now, and there’s an expectation that he will perform well today.

Pollorena threw well against USM during the regular season, earning the win with 5 2/3 innings of shutout relief.

“He really had everything going that day for him last time,” catcher Wes Thigpen said. “What I always concentrate on with Luis is keep the ball down in the zone. Pound the strike zone like we always do and being aggressive in the zone, trying to get early outs. Luis, with his fast tempo, I think that really helps him out a lot.”

In that game, Pollorena gave up one hit, and that wasn’t until the eighth inning, when Tyler Koelling‘s single ended his day.

“I don’t know if we were struggling or not,” Koelling said, “but he came out and he located well, he threw his changeup, threw curveballs, he even threw a little cutter. When you’ve got a guy who can throw three or four pitches for a strike, then that’s going to give you trouble any day.”

It’s hard to say if Pollorena’s familiarity with USM will pay off, because that street goes both ways.

“We’re just going to have to work a little harder since they’ve seen me once already,” Pollorena said. “I’m going to follow Wes here, and me and him should have a good game. Whatever he calls, we’ll go with it, because he does the scouting report like no other.”

USM counters with an established ace in Todd McInnis (8-2 2.61), who’s struck out 81 and walked 30 in 89 2/3 innings. Most of the Bulldogs haven’t faced him before, but senior Jarrod Parks saw plenty of McInnis in high school.

“We lived 15 minutes away from each other,” Parks said. “We grew up talking to each other. I talked to him (Wednesday) night, the night before, 20 minutes after we got selected to play with them. He’s a good friend, and it’s going to be fun a game.”

• Remember, today’s game starts at 2 p.m. Central time and will be televised by CSS. You can also watch the game online right here.