Under-dawgs: MSU faces tough USM team in Pearl
MSU baseball coach John Cohen knows his team has a tough challenge against Southern Miss tonight in Pearl. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
While Mississippi State has been in rebuilding mode over the past three seasons, Southern Mississippi has enjoyed unprecedented success.
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For the Golden Eagles, it has translated into success on the in-state recruiting trail where USM has become more of a player for the top baseball talent in the state of Mississippi.
"I think certainly some doors are opened wide now that may have been only cracked in previous years," Southern Mississippi head coach Scott Berry said.
In 2009, USM not only made it to its first ever Super Regional appearance but also beat Florida in Gainesville to earn its inaugural visit to the College World Series in Omaha. That Eagles team finished with a No. 8 final ranking in three different polls.
"Ever since the Omaha experience, we've certainly put our name in the households of many but also because we've made it to eight straight regionals," Berry said.
Despite not receiving a recruiting class ranked in the Top 25 in any of the past three seasons, Southern Miss won a Conference USA championship last season and comes into tonight's contest at Trustmark Park in Pearl ranked 18th according to Baseball America's weekly poll.
"Our philosophy is to recruit the kid where Southern Miss can be a good fit for that young man and it's the same philosophy when we started this run in 2003," Berry said. "We're still not going to get every kid we want but what it boils to is we like to achieve balance from a academic standpoint and a baseball aspect."
While USM has been on this historic run, Mississippi State hasn't reached the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Hoover since 2007 while having Top 25 recruiting classes each of the last three season under head coach John Cohen.
"I know the minute I got here Southern Miss was putting together very good seasons consistently and they've done some smart things," Cohen said.
Cohen contends that college baseball recruiting with the 27-man roster limitation has changed the mentality his staff uses when evaluating talent in the current era.
"When we recruit now, it's not about competing against somebody," Cohen said. "There's less recruiting battles because of the numbers game in terms of scholarship allotment for our sport."
Berry agrees mid-major programs have benefited from the roster limits but thinks USM has had unique success in both areas.
"We were making regionals and starting our string of successful seasons when the numbers were against us," Berry said.
Tonight both teams will face off at the home of the double-A professional Mississippi Braves in its fifth annual Governorâ€™s Cup matchup with first pitch scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
The philosophies for both squads will not be identical either when they get to Trustmark Park as well.
The Bulldogs (19-9. 4-5) are coming off a weekend where they were swept at Georgia and will try to get some players and specifically young pitchers some much-needed experience before facing No. 4 Florida in a critical three-game SEC weekend series.
MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson has six to seven pitchers he'd like to get action tonight but will be handing the ball first to sophomore right-hander Andrew Busby (1-0, 4.00 ERA) for his first career start hoping to get two innings out of the transfer from Wallace State.
"I'm not disappointed with the way our team played this past weekend and we have to chalk it up to the game of baseball getting us for three straight days," Cohen said. "We've playing a veteran club that's doing some great things but we have to get some guys in a game situation to see how they'll react."
Southern Mississippi (22-5, 5-1), who already has mid-week wins against Ole Miss and Alabama this season, is going to treat this contest like another critical game to their 2011 campaign that has them second in the latest RPI rankings.
"What we've found is we don't care who the opponent is because at the end of the season, these types of games mean a lot to your postseason fate as well," Berry said. "We won't jeopardize our weekend rotation but other than that, we'll do everything we can to win."
USM will send freshman Boomer Scarborough to the mound as the hard-throwing right-hander, who chose the Eagles program over Ole Miss last year, has had three straight quality starts. Scarborough was a high school football teammate of MSU quarterback Dylan Favre on the St. Stanislaus team that won the Class 4A state championship.
"He's a competitor and has given us a chance to win every time out in the mid-week," Berry said. "As a freshman, he's gotten better at every start we've given him and that's why we like him in this role."
Southern Miss picked up its second straight Conference USA hitter of the week award as senior outfielder Marc Bourgeois earned the honor after the Golden Eagles posted a sweep at No. 23 UCF last weekend.
Bourgeois finished the week by hitting .588, including a 10-for-13 (.769) performance in three victories at No. 23 UCF. The native of Granby, Quebec, opened the UCF series with a tie-breaking three-run homer in the top of the ninth inning of a 6-5 victory. Bourgeois tied a career high with five hits against UCF on Saturday, including a home run and a triple. He finished the weekend with a two-for-three outing, including a late-two run single to help preserve the victory and lead USM to its eighth consecutive win over the Knights in Orlando.
The teams have evenly split the last 20 meetings over the past 10 seasons, including last yearâ€™s two meetings. In 2010, USM prevailed 14-3 in Pearl while State claimed a 16-9 win in Hattiesburg.