2014 NCAA Baseball Tournament: San Diego State vs. Mississippi State preview

USA TODAY Sports

The Aztecs open up NCAA Tournament play against a Bulldog team that made the College World Series finals last year.

No. 3 San Diego State Aztecs (42-19, MWC Champions) vs. No. 2 Mississippi State Bulldogs (37-22, SEC At-Large)

When: Friday, May 30, 2 p.m. ET, 11 a.m. PT

Where: M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field, Lafayette, Louisiana

TV: ESPN3, Watch ESPN app

Radio: ESPN 1700 San Diego

Talk about two similar teams.

Stellar batting? Check: the Bulldogs put up a .275 average while the Aztecs hit .291 this year.

Top-notch pitching? Yup: SDSU pitchers had a 3.70 ERA and Mississippi State pitchers had a 2.90 ERA. Both teams also will throw a juggernaut closer at their opponent-SDSU with Michael Cederoth and his 20 saves (good for third in the country), and Mississippi State with its pre-season All-America closer Jonathon Holder.

Reliable gloves? You bet: pitchers can rest easy on both teams knowing their team will snag almost any ball put into play. The Aztecs had a .973 fielding percentage and the Bulldogs had a .981 fielding percentage.

However, each team has its own edge within the similarities. Both teams hit well, but SDSU has a higher average and hits with more pop (25 homers as opposed to Mississippi State's 15). And the Bulldogs have an incredible seven pitchers with an ERA below 3.00, whereas SDSU only has three.

Also, there's one obvious difference: conference strength. The Mountain West Conference has some great teams and sent two to the NCAA Tournament. But the SEC is an absolute baseball powerhouse and has been for a long time. Ten of the SEC's 14 baseball teams made the NCAA Tournament and five of those teams are hosting regionals. SDSU had a better record than the Bulldogs. In fact, the Aztecs had their best year record-wise since 1990. However, they faced a lower level of competition.

Aztec to watch: Starting pitcher Bubba Derby. There's still question as to who will start for the Bulldogs, but that debate doesn't really matter for the Aztecs. What matters is this: whoever pitches for Mississippi State will be good. Very good. SDSU's bats are explosive, but the Aztecs most likely won't put up many crooked numbers tomorrow against this Bulldog staff--this will most likely be a low-to-mid scoring affair. Thus, Derby will need to come up big and make sure the Bulldog bats don't come alive. Derby, a sophomore in his first college season as a starter, threw incredibly well this year. He recorded an 8-3 record with a shiny 2.69 ERA. He tossed over 103 innings, struck out 99 batters and only allowed a .234 opponent batting average. Derby closed games for SDSU last year and he's maintained that closer mentality of going right after batters and trusting his defense. If Derby has his best stuff tomorrow and challenges the Bulldog hitters, SDSU has a great chance to win its tournament opener.

Key to the game: Timely hitting. As I said earlier, this will not be a high-scoring affair. There won't be too many hits on either side, so the Aztecs need to have timely hitting--in other words, they need to hit well with runners in scoring position. Ty France and Brad Haynal were RBI machines for SDSU this year, with 45 and 49 RBI, respectively. And Seby Zavala finished the season strong, ending with 36 RBI. M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field is smaller than Tony Gwynn Stadium: 10 feet shorter in straightaway left and right and 12 feet shorter in deep center. If the Aztecs can get big hits at the right time, and if one or two of those hits can be homers that might have just been long outs at Tony Gwynn Stadium, SDSU will win.

Prediction: This is such a close call-almost too difficult to predict. Bulldogs 5 Aztecs 4 in 11 innings.

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