Samford Eager for Stratton Challenge; Plus, Links

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. | Previewing today’s NCAA regional game between No. 2 seed MSU (39-22) and No. 3 seed Samford (39-21). First pitch is 11 a.m. CT.

TV: No TV, can be watched on ESPN3.com

Starting pitchers: Samford RHP Charles Basford (9-2, 3.95) vs. Mississippi State RHP Chris Stratton (11-1, 2.21)

Links: No time off for Slauter; Samford glad to draw Stratton

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MSU is going with its ace, Stratton, and he will be challenged by a lineup that has put up some really good numbers. Samford’s .307 batting average is 18th in the country, and its 62 home runs rank sixth.

Brandon Miller, a senior catcher and outfielder, leads the country with 22 homers. Teammate Saxon Butler, a senior first baseman, has 14.

“Very good, very good, as good as any lineup we’ve seen recently, and that’s saying a lot, because we’ve seen some great lineups,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “I thought Kentucky had one of the best lineups I’d seen all year long. I thought LSU had a tremendous lineup. Samford certainly is right there.”

Stratton is projected as a first-round pick in Monday’s Major League Draft, and at one time so was Georgia Southern pitcher Chris Beck. In Sunday’s Southern Conference Tournament title game, Samford knocked Beck around to the tune of four runs (all earned) on five hits and chased him after 1 2/3 innings. Beck’s stock has fallen off a bit this year, but he’s still a top-tier prospect, with ESPN.com’s Kiley McDaniel saying he’s at worst an early second-round pick.

If Stratton earns the win today, he could move into a tie for first nationally in number of victories. It’s currently a three-way tie between Samford’s Josh Martin, Arizona State’s Trevor Williams, and Texas-Arlington’s Lance Day. Martin, of course, isn’t throwing today; ASU isn’t in the postseason; and Day is expected to pitch today against Dallas Baptist in the Waco Regional, so he could take sole possession of first.

Basford, Samford’s starter today, has started 15 games and throw two complete games. He’s struck out 54 and walked 26 in 98 innings of work, so his profile suggests that MSU – which has had its struggles on offense – will have some good opportunities to put up runs.

The Samford-MSU winner will play at 6 p.m. CT on Saturday against the UAB-Florida State winner. FSU is not throwing its ace today, instead going with Scott Sitz (3-3, 4.14), who’s made 11 starts this year. UAB will throw senior Michael Busby (5-4, 3.90), the former MSU player who’s come back from a sports hernia. He was the MVP of the Conference USA Tournament, which the Blazers won.

“He’s not an overpowering guy. He does pitch to contact, he does throw strikes, and he’s very competitive, and he’s very composed,” UAB coach Brian Shoop said.