Super Regional: Omaha Within Reach

Previewing today’s Super Regional Game 3 between Mississippi State (38-24) and Florida (49-17) at McKethan Stadium. Today’s game begins at noon Central time and can be watched on ESPN and ESPN3.com

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GAINESVILLE | National seeding, previous results, momentum – none of that really matters today, does it?

We have an “any given Sunday” kind of scenario, one in which Mississippi State has a shot to do what until very recently was unthinkable. And some might think it unthinkable still. Because Florida, the No. 2 national seed, has more depth and more talent, and it’s at home, and these players have been in this situation before.

This is still new to MSU’s players, although they’ve not really acted that way. A sweep through the Atlanta Regional and then a gutsy comeback yesterday for a dramatic 4-3 win have shown us that. The Bulldogs, despite not having been in this specific situation, seemed to have learned how to handle the big stage.

Hero Nick Vickerson was asked about the team’s mood entering the fateful ninth inning. “We were just really focused. You’ve got to beat Florida, and we were just trying to make the most of every opportunity. They weren’t going to give us anything.”

The shot that was heard from Gainesville to Starkville opened up some grand possibilities. MSU has a chance to reach its ninth College World Series, while Florida goes for its seventh. On the hill for State is sophomore left-hander Luis Pollorena (7-5, 3.97 ERA), the sparkplug who turned in brilliant bullpen work during the season before moving into the rotation, where he’s seen his share of struggles.

Pollorena took the loss against Florida in the SEC Tournament, surrendering the Brian Johnson‘s grand slam that ultimately decided the outcome. Last weekend in Atlanta, however, Pollorena tossed six shutout innings against Southern Miss.

“One thing that he does, that you have to have against a power lineup, is throw the fastball in and out,” MSU coach John Cohen said.

As for the rest of MSU’s pitching, the bullpen is in good shape. Chris Stratton will be available (he threw 25 pitches on Friday), and Cohen hasn’t yet had to use guys like Chad Girodo, Devin Jones, Daryl Norris, Taylor Stark and Tim Statz. So there are plenty of options when it comes to lefty-righty matchups.

What about Caleb Reed, who got the win yesterday with 5 1/3 innings of work? You know he’ll bend Cohen’s ear to let him in at some point, and Cohen will keep that open as a late-game option.

As for Florida, it will start junior left-hander Alex Panteliodis (6-2, 3.76).

As thrilling as yesterday’s finish was, neither team is expecting it to carry over until today, although it surely must bolster the Bulldogs’ confidence even more.

“The bottom line is whoever plays the best (today) is going to move on,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We’re going to keep it very matter-of-fact, very business-like.”

That’s the kind of vibe I’ve gotten from this Florida team: business-like. Not that the Gators are bereft of emotion, but they don’t wear their emotions on their sleeve like the Bulldogs often do. And Pollorena is one of the most emotional MSU players.

A good start by Pollorena, and MSU will have a fighting chance, and it could be booking a flight for Omaha, Neb.

• Also from today’s Journal is a sidebar on Reed, who’s got an extra pitch – a changeup – in his arsenal.