By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
The implications are inescapable for Mississippi State.
That can be good or bad, depending on how you look at it. When MSU coach John Cohen was playing, there were no up-to-the minute RPI rankings or Internet sites projecting the NCAA regional field.
Even though the Bulldogs have not been to either the SEC Tournament or the NCAAs in four years, Cohen’s players are well aware of what’s on the line when they take on rival Ole Miss in a three-game series that starts today in Oxford.
Both teams are 11-13 in SEC play and on the cut line for an SEC tourney berth. While both squads appear to be in good shape to grab an NCAA at-large bid, a poor finish to the season could put that in jeopardy.
“They’re acutely aware of everything,” Cohen said. “They can recite you every website that’s covering the RPI and the differences in the two. In some ways I think our kids can get too much information.”
With two weekends of the regular season remaining, MSU could still win the Western Division title and thus earn a No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament. Or it could get left out for the fourth consecutive year.
The Ole Miss series will go a long way in deciding one way or the other, and the players know it.
“You can feel it in the dugout, but it’s not such a pressure but a determination that we want to get through it,” said sophomore Luis Pollorena, tonight’s starting pitcher. “This is a different club, and Mississippi State baseball is back.”
Pollorena said he and his teammates pay attention to the RPI rankings – MSU is currently 26th in the country – but don’t let such things consume them.
“We’ve got to take care of our business first for it to work out,” he said.
Pollorena (6-3, 2.61) will be making his second career start for MSU, having been moved from the bullpen last week at Tennessee. He allowed five runs on 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings in Friday’s 16-5 win.
The left-hander will need to be sharp against an Ole Miss offense that relies on the long ball – the Rebels’ 39 home runs ties for the league lead.
“If the wind’s blowing out really hard, I think in some cases that could be an advantage for Ole Miss,” said Cohen. “I think they’re a more physical team than we are, and I think we’re built a little bit differently for our ballpark.”
Last weekend was the first time all season that all three MSU starters tossed five-plus innings against SEC competition. That helped the bullpen stay rested, and State will need its relievers – who’ve been strong all season – to be at their best against the Rebels.
“You’ve got to believe that at least some of these games are going to be close, just judging on the history of what’s happened this year in our league,” Cohen said. “I agree, this will be a battle that’s going to be usually won or lost in the last three innings, as it is every single weekend.”
Both MSU and Ole Miss enter the weekend one game out of first place in the West. For the first time since Cohen arrived, this series has meaning beyond the rivalry aspect.
Junior closer Caleb Reed is not one to track RPIs and postseason scenarios, but he’s fully aware of how vital this weekend is to MSU’s fortunes. Like the rest of the Bulldogs, he’s trying to have tunnel vision and not worry about the future.
“Ever since last weekend, we knew every game was crucial for us,” Reed said. “We’re not trying to put too much pressure on us; we don’t want to be so uptight we can’t play.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571