By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
HOOVER, Ala. – A little more than a month ago, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt were SEC bottom dwellers searching for answers.
Today, they are the last two standing at Regions Park and will meet at 2:30 p.m. for the SEC Tournament title. MSU has won seven of its last eight games against SEC foes, while Vandy is on a nine-game winning streak.
The Commodores (33-25) were at risk of not qualifying for NCAA postseason play – teams must be at least one game above .500 – before getting hot.
“You can tell now that there’s much more of a relaxed tone to our team,” shortstop Anthony Gomez said. “There was never a we’re down-and-out mentality in (Saturday’s) game, obviously.”
Vandy scored five times in the ninth inning to beat Florida, 8-6, in the tourney semifinals.
MSU beat Kentucky, 2-1, its fourth win in Hoover this week.
“I really think they’re very similar to us,” Vandy coach Tim Corbin said of MSU. “They’re scrappy, they’re opportunistic, they make things happen.”
State took two of three from Vanderbilt in Starkville during the regular season.
Set to play its sixth game in as many days, MSU feels it has enough pitching left.
Wheeler’s Brandon Woodruff (1-2, 2.90 ERA), who started on Tuesday against Arkansas and tossed five shutout innings to pick up his first win, will start today. The bullpen will again be expected to play a big role, and Cohen feels there are enough arms to get through today.
He said three active pitchers have yet to see action this week.
“We’re kind of built for a tournament with our deep bullpen and great pitching staff,” junior left-hander Nick Routt said.
Freshman closer Jonathan Holder, who earned his ninth save of the year and third of the tournament on Saturday, has a nickname: “The Truth.” That’s the same nickname as NBA star Paul Pierce.
Holder hasn’t given up a run in 271⁄3 innings this season, a school record.
“As long as he keeps doing that, we’ll keep that nickname,” shortstop Adam Frazier said.