Postseason baseball has arrived for the 24th-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs as they prepare for the rematch with No. 25 Arkansas in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Hoover, Ala.
The two SEC Western Division foes, who finished tied for second place in the division, face one another the second weekend of the league season with the Razorbacks leaving Starkville with a pair of victories.
This time around both teams are playing great baseball each having swept their opponent the final weekend of the regular season.
“They are a really talented club and I think it is like anybody, it just depends on when you catch them," said MSU baseball coach John Cohen, who has led his team to back-to-back trips to the league tournament.
"We’re catching them where they are playing well."
The Bulldogs are playing well in their own right thanks to an offense that appears to be getting hot at the right time. State pounded out 18 runs against the Wildcats with Daryl Norris and Wes Rea breaking out of a slump of sorts which will no doubt help at Regions Park, one of the largest in all of SEC play.
“Going into the tournament, especially in the big ballpark, to have it going a little bit more offensively certainly helps,” said Cohen. “I think our kids realize that it plays bigger than most ballparks and you have to play a little bit different style of baseball there and that’s the style we play. I think that does help us.”
Adam Frazier, who was recently selected to join Team USA for its summer baseball tour, leads the Bulldogs at the plate with a .360 batting average. He is one of the few MSU players who have postseason experience and plans to share his knowledge with the youngsters in the clubhouse.
“This is all about having fun," Frazier said. "Last year we did get hot and made a little run and hopefully we can do that again this year. The main thing is for them to just stay confident. As long as everybody on the team stays confident (and believe) that we can do it, then we can win.”
On the mound, the Bulldogs will turn to freshman righthander Brandon Woodruff. Cohen believes Woodruff is the best option despite his 0-2 record and 3.46 earned run average.
"Certainly Woody has pitched well when we’ve given him opportunities," Cohen said.
Mississippi State faces an Arkansas club that finished the regular season 39-17 and 16-14 in conference play and like the Bulldogs finished the regular season swinging a hot bat. The Hogs batted a scorching .342 during last week’s outings.
Matt Reynolds paces Arkansas at the dish with .347 to go with a team-high 41 RBI. Tim Carver leads the team with 69 hits comes in with a .317 batting average. As a team, the Razorbacks are hitting at a .283 clip.
It is expected that Ryne Stanek will get the call on the hill for Arkansas. Stanek enters with a 2.96 ERA and a record of 6-3. He also went 6 1/3 innings against Mississippi State earlier in the season allowing no runs on just three hits.
“He throws hard," said Frazier as he recalled Stanek’s performance. “We just have to make him throw strikes and maybe we can put some barrels on balls and puts some runs up like we did on Sunday.”
State takes the field in game two of the SEC Tournament and the one thing Cohen was sure of, the seniors want to improve upon the 0-2 performance of 2011.
“That just leaves a little bit of a bad taste in your mouth, especially the way we lost it,” said Cohen. “I think the older guys want to do well and have some success in the SEC Tournament.”