By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – As Demarcus Henderson spoke with reporters on Monday, the 2012 SEC Baseball Tournament championship trophy sat in a glass case just a few feet away.
The pyramid-shaped prize represents Mississippi State’s current hot surge, but it could also serve as an obstacle.
The Bulldogs (39-22) must now forget their recent triumph and focus on the NCAA tournament, which for them will begin Friday in the Tallahassee (Fla.) Regional.
The 64-team tournament field was announced on Monday, and No. 2 seed MSU will be the biggest threat to upend host Florida State, which is the nation’s overall third seed.
State, No. 14 in this week’s Baseball America rankings, will open play at 11 a.m. Friday against third-seeded Samford. FSU will play No. 4 seed UAB in the evening game.
While the Bulldogs are hoping to ride their recent wave – 18 wins in their last 24 games, including eight of the last nine – they don’t want to savor the SEC title too long.
“Winning an SEC championship we know is phenomenal, and it was great, but we’ve got a bigger goal in mind,” said Henderson, a redshirt freshman. “So I think setting that (focus) back won’t be a problem for us.”
Samford (39-21) is good enough to turn MSU’s attention to the present. Also nicknamed the Bulldogs, the Birmingham school owns wins this season over Florida – the top national seed – Auburn and Oklahoma.
Samford won the Southern Conference Tournament, and it’s strong both at the plate (.307 batting average) and on the mound (3.77 ERA).
‘Making it tough’
The winner in Tallahassee will draw the winner of the Palo Alto (Calif.) Regional, hosted by Stanford, and the winner of that advances to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
“The committee is making it tough on us,” MSU shortstop Adam Frazier said. “We’ll just come ready to play like we did this past week.”
Coach John Cohen said he’d like to see the seeding process more similar to the NCAA basketball tournament, “and have (No.) 2 seeds seeded in a traditional way. But every regional is challenging. You have to beat great teams in order to have a chance to get to Omaha, no matter which regional you’re in.”
Junior right-hander Chris Stratton, of Tupelo, is expected to start Friday’s game. He’s 11-1 with a 2.21 ERA. Samford is expected to counter with ace Josh Martin (12-1, 2.96).
“We’ve got to bring our ‘A’ game,” Stratton said. “There’s no time to mess around.”