MSU takes on No. 1 Florida in SEC baseball series

The Mississippi State Bulldogs break huddle prior to a game.
Staff Writer

Mississippi State interim head coach Gary Henderson isn’t beating around the bush when it comes to explaining to his team the seriousness of the test that awaits this weekend.

The top-ranked Florida Gators are coming to Starkville for a three-game series beginning Thursday night and the Bulldogs are playing for their postseason lives. In preparation, Henderson has put all the cards on the table with his guys.

“You approach it very directly and honestly,” Henderson said. “We need to play well. You’re very much black-and-white. The kids know as much as you do in the repercussions and implications and all that. We need to get some wins.”

Indeed, victories are vital for Mississippi State (28-24, 12-15). One win at any point this weekend would lock up a spot in the Southeastern Conference Tournament for the Bulldogs. Anything more than that would improve MSU’s seeding in Hoover, Alabama next week, though that might be a tall order. Florida (41-12, 20-7) just clinched its second straight SEC regular season championship last weekend and the Gators have won 19 consecutive regular season series dating back to last year. It’s no surprise the Bulldogs are walking a delicate balance as to focusing in on the Gators, but not putting too much pressure on themselves.

“We can’t make it too big and we can’t make it too little,” MSU second baseman Hunter Stovall said.

Though it wouldn’t be ideal, the Bulldogs could still sneak into the SEC Tournament even if they are swept this weekend. If the Gators win all three at Dudy Noble Field, MSU would need either a Missouri sweep over Tennessee or Tennessee to win that series. If Missouri were to win the series with just two wins and MSU is swept in Starkville, then both Missouri and Tennessee would be in Hoover and MSU would get left out. All those scenarios could also be altered depending on if weather influences the weekend schedule in any way.

So it’s complicated, but Mississippi State could simplify it all for itself by just winning a game over the Gators. If the Bulldogs need a confidence boost, they have some recent history to fall back on. MSU has already picked up huge wins against top teams this season. State is 6-1 this year against teams ranked inside the top five. That includes a home series win over Ole Miss and a sweep of Arkansas. Once again, MSU could use some home cooking with Florida in town.

“Playing at home is a benefit for everybody,” Henderson said. “I don’t think there is a team in the league that doesn’t play better at home – whether it’s (because of) fan support or comfort or both for confidence. We have great support here at home.

“I’m glad we’ve played well (at home against top teams). We need to play well again this weekend.”

Henderson’s plan is always for the Bulldogs to just control the things it can control. Yes, this weekend could turn out any number of ways, but MSU's top priority is to find a way to win at least one game.

As good as Florida is, the Bulldogs see the next three days as a tremendous opportunity against the powerhouse Gators.

“They’re really good and they’re really talented, but they’re not perfect,” Henderson said. “Regardless of who you’re playing or how many series they’ve won in a row, the basics are still in play. It’s just when you play somebody that’s really good, your margin of error is a little bit less.”

Thursday's game begins at 6:30 p.m., while Friday's start is 6 p.m. and Saturday's final outing is 3:30 p.m.