TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The connections between the Mississippi State and UAB baseball teams were on everyone's mind Saturday.
The Bulldogs beat the Blazers 8-1 to eliminate them from the Tallahassee Regional, but Blazer starting pitcher Ryan Nance welcomed the opportunity to compete against friends.
"I was excited, not just because we were playing Mississippi State, but because we were playing in a regional," said Nance, who is a Brandon native and graduate of Northwest Rankin High School. "I know Taylor Stark, Caleb Reed, Brent Brownlee and a couple of the other (Mississippi State) guys. I was excited to play against them. At the end of the day, it's just a baseball game. After this, I can still call my friends and talk to them."
Nance went to Hinds Community College along with Blazer starting pitcher Michael Busby, who played for MSU before transferring.
"I thought the first guy they threw, (Ryan) Nance, was just outstanding," MSU head coach John Cohen said. "I thought we had a great scouting report and everything we heard about them. He threw strikes, he hit both sides with his fastball and his breaking ball was good."
UAB head coach Brian Shoop was an assistant coach at Mississippi State from 1983 to 1989. Cohen played for the Bulldogs during that time.
"He is one of the great infield coaches in America,” Cohen said in an interview earlier this week. “He really understands infield play. He’s a brilliant tactician of the game all the way around. He is so invested in his players, not only as athletes, but as people."
There is also Ron Polk who coached the Bulldogs for 29 years in two different stints.
“I have so much fondness for oach Shoop and his staff, and obviously for coach Ron Polk – one of the true legends of college baseball," Cohen said earlier this week.
There is also Patrick Palmeiro, who is the son of legendary MSU standout and Major League Baseball 500 home run club member Rafael Palmeiro.
"It was special, but I didn't want that to get me caught up in the (connections) and stuff," the younger Palmeiro said. "I tried to relax and play the game that I always play. At the same time, it was really special playing against Mississippi State. Both of my parents went to school there. We have two coaches that coached there so it was really special."