By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
– Looking back: MSU won its final non-conference game of the year on Tuesday, defeating Memphis 8-3 at AutoZone Park. Starting Thursday, the Bulldogs took on LSU in the final SEC series of the regular season. After suffering a 17-1 loss in Game 1, MSU rallied for a 6-5 win in Game 2. LSU took the rubber match, 6-3.
However, MSU qualified for the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2007, as a No. 6 seed.
– Looking ahead: The Bulldogs open tournament play at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala., on Wednesday against third-seeded Florida (41-15, 22-8). It will be the second game of the day.
The Gators took two of three in Starkville earlier this season. They were 12-3 against Western Division teams this year.
– Who’s hot: Senior outfielder Jaron Shepherd had a solid weekend at the plate, going 4 of 10 with a homer and two RBIs, and he also walked twice.
Shepherd was even bigger in the field, especially in Friday’s 6-5 win. He made a diving catch to end the second inning with a man on third base, and he ended the ninth by tracking down a fly ball near foul territory with two men on base and MSU down a run. State rallied in the bottom half.
– Who’s not: Over his last four games, senior first baseman Ryan Collins is 3 of 15 batting with one RBI. For the season he’s hitting .266 and is third on the team with 31 RBIs.
– RPI watch: State slipped a bit despite playing a higher RPI team – from 26th to 29th, according to analysis site BoydsWorld.com. That’s still well within the desired range for a team hoping for an NCAA Regional berth.
Florida is currently No. 3 in RPI.
– Bottom line: MSU’s entry into the SEC Tournament is seen as a sign of progress under third-year coach John Cohen. The 14 league wins mark a big jump from last year, when the Bulldogs suffered through a 6-24 record, worst in program history.
Coaches and players alike were visibly disappointed to lose the series to LSU, and they hope that helps them keep an edge in Hoover.