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By MATTHEW STEVENS
Over the last week, a high number of Mississippi State runners have been left stranded and their head coach isn't very pleased about it.
"I'm still not thrilled with the way we swung the bats with runners in scoring position and what I'm talking about is seniors not getting the job done in those situations," MSU third-year head coach John Cohen said. "We've got to do a much better job at that if we're going to be a solid club in our league."
As the Florida Gators, ranked No. 4 in the latest Baseball America poll, come to Dudy Noble Field, Cohen recognizes that pattern has to change against one of the best pitching staffs in the Southeastern Conference.
Florida (24-6, 7-2 in SEC play) will run three of the top 15 best pitchers statistically in the SEC out to mound in the three-game tilt this weekend starting with sophomore right-hander Hudson Randall, who leads the conference in earned run average (0.54), complete games (2) and innings pitched (49.2).
Randall, a 46th-round choice by the Kansas City Royals in the 2009 amateur draft, now throws five pitches effectively: a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, changeup, slider and curveball. His fastball tops out at about 92 miles per hour.
The Gators have 25 less walks on the mound than the team second in that category by allowing just 54 bases on balls in 30 games this season.
"They pitch it so efficiently," Cohen said. "That's how we are trying to build this program around with our pitching staff not giving away base runners. That's what Florida does a amazing job of because they don't walk or hit people on the mound."
State has already seen one of the best set of arms in the country when they opened SEC play in Nashville at Vanderbilt and were dominated by the Commodores starting pitching.
"The difference between the pitching of Vanderbilt and Florida is Vandy throws more pitches and they strike so many guys out," Cohen said. "Florida is so efficient about getting so many outs early in the count. They have three or less pitch at-bats so we're going to have to try to get hits early in the count."
If Florida has a lead at any point this weekend, Gators head coach Kevin O'Sullivan will turn to Anthony DeSclafani, one of the best closers in the country looking to erase memories of a mid-week mistake in a 4-3 home loss to Central Florida Tuesday.
Clinging to a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth, DeSclafani (4-1, 1.99 ERA) was called from the bullpen after lefty reliever Nick Maronde allowed a leadoff walk to UCFâ€™s Beau Taylor and then Golden Knights shortstop Darnell Sweeney crushed a double over center fielder Tyler Thompsonâ€™s head for the midweek win.
â€śIâ€™m not going to sit here and talk about Disco,â€ť Oâ€™Sullivan said. â€śThat guy has been nails for us all year long. Heâ€™s made pitches all year long, and that happens. This is the game of baseball. â€śIf we get into the same situation Friday night, heâ€™s getting the ball.â€ť
Mississippi State (20-9, 4-5 in SEC) will counter tonight (6:30 p.m.) with junior right-hander Devin Jones, who rebounded from back-to-back struggling SEC outings, with a solid start against Georgia last weekend. The Eupora native allowed just two runs on three hits in 63 pitches over five innings of work.
It has been the bullpen effort that has been spectacular and carried the Bulldogs through conference wins in 2011 and was the same at Trustmark Park in Pearl in a come-from-behind victory against Southern Mississippi.
"Getting depth in the bullpen was the first thing we felt like we had to do at Mississippi State," Cohen said. "What we have is 16 guys who have log innings for us and that's so key for us later in the year being able to match up guys for single batters or situations."
Mississippi Stateâ€™s 2010 Super Bulldog Weekend Saturday matchup with Tennessee drew 11,089 fans to Dudy Noble Field, the SECâ€™s top actual attendance of the season and the 24th attendance of 10,000 or better at the home of MSU baseball.
"The benefit is we have (Florida) at home and it's Super Bulldog Weekend and our kids are a little bit excited about that," Cohen said. "In college baseball, you don't see that type of crowd really."
In 1989, Mississippi State broke its own NCAA on-campus baseball attendance mark with 14,991 that packed Dudy Noble Field for a Saturday twinbill against Florida.
The Saturday contest (which is televised on Comcast Sports Southeast) and Sunday game are both noon start times.
The last time Florida visited Dudy Noble Field, the Bulldogs took the first two game of that three-game season.