HOOVER, Ala. | You know what they say about how hard it is to beat a team twice. Well, Mississippi State will try to beat Kentucky for the fourth time in the past week when the teams meet today in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament.
The seventh-seeded Bulldogs (36-21) swept four-seed Kentucky (42-15) last weekend in Starkville, knocking the Wildcats from atop the Eastern Division and dropping them seven spots in this week’s Baseball America poll, to No. 11. MSU, ranked 24th, hasn’t beaten a team four times in one season since 2003, when it took down Ole Miss five times in six meetings (including twice in the SEC Tournament).
Odds are, Kentucky will be plenty motivated for revenge.
“Kentucky scares you to death because they can really hit,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “Their one through nine is one of the best in the league. They’re very well-coached and, boy, do they not want to lose four in a row to anybody. We’re going to get the best that they have to offer.”
The Wildcats hit .224 against MSU pitching last week and scored seven runs total, their second-lowest weekend run total in SEC play this year (six vs. Florida).
Starting on the mound for UK is junior southpaw Jerad Grundy (4-3, 4.15 ERA). Last Friday against MSU, he gave up four runs (all earned) on four hits in 4 2/3 innings, striking out five and walking three. The pitch Grundy would like to have back is the one launched over the left field wall for a three-run homer, giving State a 4-2 lead in the fourth inning. The final score was 4-3.
A question floating around out there is whether beating Kentucky today puts MSU in more solid position to host an NCAA regional, because UK has been pegged by many as a regional host. Four losses to State in a week’s span could change that – in theory. There is a larger picture to consider, of course.
There is also the RPI to consider. MSU needs to get in the top 20 to even have a shot at hosting. Its official RPI rank at the beginning of the week was 29; according to WarrenNolan.com, the Bulldogs are all the way up to 20, while BoydsWorld.com has them at 24.
Kentucky’s current RPI rank according to those sources is 16th and 18th, respectively.
• If MSU wins today, it advances to the semifinals on Saturday at noon – that’s where single-elimination play begins. If State loses, it’ll play Friday at 3 p.m. in an elimination game. Winning that game would punch a ticket to the semis.
• Today’s game is again being televised by SportSouth, so good luck finding that on your dial. It’ll stream on ESPN3.com as well, but if you live in the South then it’s probably blacked out. You can listen on terrestrial radio (for MSU affiliate list, CLICK HERE) or satellite radio (XM 199, Sirius 213).
• Notable stat: MSU is 20-12 in games decided by two runs or less this season. It’s won nine of the past 12 such games.