By MICHAEL WARDLAW
The Bulldog showdown opens the Tallahassee Regional this morning as the red-hot Mississippi State Bulldogs face the Samford Bulldogs at Florida State’s Dick Howser Stadium.
Mississippi State (39-22) enters its 32nd NCAA postseason tournament as the No. 2 seed facing the No. 3 seed Samford University (39-21) with the first pitch slated for 11 a.m.
Playing six games in six days, the MSU Bulldogs went 5-1 in the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament last week to complete a second half run of 18-6, winning the conference title with a 3-0 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Leaving nothing to chance, Mississippi State plans to send junior righthander Chris Stratton, with a record of 11-1 and an earned run average of 2.21, to the mound. The SEC Pitcher of the Year leads the conference in both wins and earned run average while standing second with 123 strikeouts.
“We’re going to pitch Chris Stratton (today),” Cohen said. “We were waiting a while but we are going to pitch our very best guy because Samford is the most important game this year.”
Stratton’s start has Samford excited.
“That’s the way our kids wanted it to be honest with you,” Samford head coach Casey Dunn said. “I don’t think we would have it any other way. I think we are confident, and we’ve got a good offensive club. We’ve faced some good arms this season both in and outside of our league.”
Righthander Charles Basford, who has a 9-2 record with a 3.95 ERA, is expected to counter for Samford.
In taking the field in today’s outing, State returns to the scene where its improbable run to the College World Series began in 2007. That year, MSU registered an opening-round win over Stetson before picking up a pair of wins over Florida State and returning to Starkville to face the Clemson Tigers.
State also makes back-to-back appearances in the NCAA tournament after advancing to the Super Regional last season in Gainesville, Fla., with wins over Southern Miss., Austin Peay and Georgia Tech in the Atlanta Regional.
At the plate, MSU won’t intimidate the opposition with gaudy offensive numbers, but the team does the little things that apply pressure to a defense. Bulldog batters have walked 258 times this season and have been hit by a pitch 97 times. Once runners reach base, Cohen’s clubs are known for bunting the runner into scoring position, something State has done 63 times this season.
Shortstop Adam Frazier enters the game leading MSU at the plate with a .370 batting average. The MVP of last week’s SEC Tournament is riding a career-best 12-game hit streak. Perhaps the more amazing stat from Frazier is the fact he has hit safely in 51 of MSU’s 61 games this season.
Like Mississippi State, Samford also won its conference tournament by claiming four games by a wide margin (40-15) to take the Southern Conference title.
Samford sports a regional-best .307 team batting average and began the weekend ranked sixth nationally in runs scored with 425 and home runs with 62. Samford senior outfielder Brandon Miller leads the nation with 22 home runs.
“They are as good as any lineup we’ve seen recently and that’s saying a lot because we’ve seen some great lineups,” Cohen said. “They have that nice little mix of guys that can hit it out of the ballpark, guys that can run and guys that can situationally run. They are a great club so we will have to pitch it and defend it really well.”
The winner advances to face the winner of the nightcap between Florida State and UAB on Saturday night, the loser plays Saturday afternoon in an elimination game against the loser of the Friday-night contest.