San Diego State takes on Mississippi State this Friday in the Lafayette region of the NCAA baseball tournament. For those unaware the SEC is pretty good in baseball, too. The league sent 10 teams to the post season with five of those hosting a region this weekend.
To get to know Mississippi State better we reached out to fellow SB Nation blog For Whom the Cowbell Tolls to get a deeper look at the Bulldogs baseball team.
1. The SEC had 10 teams make the NCAA tournament and five are hosting a regional this weekend. How much of a step up in competition is playing in the NCAA tournament in this early round?
Without a doubt, week in and week out, the SEC provides strong competition in college baseball. An eleventh team, Tennessee, could have been included in this field as well. The Bulldogs faced LSU, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt in the regular season. They played South Carolina and Florida in the SEC tournament, so they played all of the teams who are hosting from the SEC.
However, this is a tough region. San Diego State won their conference tournament, and should Mississippi State knock them off Friday, they have the No. 1 team in all the polls, Louisiana waiting for them. This will be another tough weekend challenge for Mississippi State, but one for which SEC play has prepared them.
2. What are the expectations for Mississippi State in the NCAA tournament?
Having made it to the championship series last year, Mississippi State fans are itching for a return to Omaha. Bulldog fans know that this will not be an easy region out of which to advance, but I think many would like to see and expect the Bulldogs to advance to a super regional, potentially against arch-rival Ole Miss. I think it is quite reasonable to expect the Bulldogs to make it to the final game on Sunday and see what happens from there.
3. Who are the key offensive players for Mississippi State that could make a difference?
Brett Pirtle leads the Bulldogs with a .347 batting average, and he is almost an automatic to reach base once a game. DeMarcus Henderson and Wes Rea, who leads the team with four home runs, have not looked like their old selves for much of the season, but once postseason play hit in the SEC tournament, they turned their levels up a bit. Alex Detz has struggled this year, but he is worth keeping an eye on, and C. T. Bradford just tries to be "ole reliable" for the team, batting .311 on the season
4. San Diego State hit nearly .300 this year, so how will Mississippi State's pitching staff approach this game?
Fortunately, the pitching staff has been the most steady part of the Mississippi State team. The Bulldogs have not yet announced a starter for Friday (as of 3:00 Monday), but I feel that Trevor Fitts may get the start. Should he start, look for Jacob Lindgren to see significant time on the mound in relief. The Bulldogs could also throw their ace, Ross Mitchell, Friday, but I think they will save him for a potential matchup against Louisiana on Saturday. Should Mitchell take the mound, the long ball will be tough to come by as he induces many ground outs.Fitts, and especially Lindgren will look to pile up more strikeouts in the contest.
5. Who wins and why?
This should be a pretty competitive game. Both teams have solid closers that can come in early if need be to shut down a game. I'm going to give Mississippi State a slight edger here. I think Fitts and Lindgren can get the job done on the hill, and the Bulldogs should find just enough firepower to pick up the win. Should Mississippi State go deep in the tournament, the pitching will be the major story.