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NCAA Lafayette Regional Preview: #2 Mississippi State

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There seems to be a relationship developing between Louisiana and Mississippi State.

The Cajuns’ tennis team took on Mississippi State in the first round of the NCAA Regionals in Austin, TX.

The Mississippi State softball team was sent to Lafayette for the NCAA Regionals.

And now, here come the Bulldogs again.

Mississippi State (37-22) enjoyed its best SEC record since 1997 with an 18-12 mark.  (Ironically, Louisiana played in the Starkville Regional that year.)  They were the #5 seed in the SEC Tournament and went 2-2, beating Georgia and South Carolina before losing a tough game against Kentucky.  They were eliminated by Florida.

Mississippi State and Louisiana have both played Eastern Illinois, Southern MIss, LSU, South Alabama and Alabama.  The Bulldogs are 6-4 against those teams, the Cajuns are 12-2.

Here’s a capsule look at the Bulldogs:

HITTING:  The Southeastern Conference is a pitchers’ league, so it’s no surprise Mississippi State’s offensive numbers are by no means staggering.  But that isn’t to say they can’t hit.  Second baseman Brett Pirtle (.341-2-27). Catcher Gavin Collins (.325-1-17) CF C. T. Bradford (.311-1-29) and SS Seth Heck (.304-0-26) all hit over .300.  The Bulldogs have offensive depth.  Eleven players have more than 100 at-bats and John Cohen isn’t afraid to go to his bench at any time.  Alex Detz and Wes Rea have combined for seven homers and 76 RBI.  No one has as many as 40 RBI on the season, partly a testament to their depth, but also the fact this team has struggled to score runs at times this year.

POWER:  Not much.  The Bulldogs have hit just 15 home runs all year, and they have only 89 total extra base hits this season.  (By contrast, the Cajuns have 220.)  No one has more than four homers, and only eight players on the entire roster have homered.  This team doesn’t strike out a lot, with exception of Rea, and they don’t walk a ton, either.

SMALL BALL?–Yes.  The Bulldogs have to find ways to move runners and they’re pretty good at it.  They’ve had 57 sacrifice bunts this season and they’ve stolen 64 bases.  Derek Armstrong and Demarcus Henderson have double digit steals and neither one is an every day player.  Obviously, if they’re not starting, they’ll probably get in as runners, especially in tight games.

PITCHING:  Deep and talented. Cohen has a dozen pitchers that have pitched double digit innings this season.   RHP Trevor Fitts (4-3, 2.51) has been the Friday starter most of the season.  LHP Ross Mitchell (8-4, 4 saves, 2.10) was their best pitcher in conference games.  Cohen has options for the third spot.  Preston Brown has nine starts and was the third guy down the stretch.  The bullpen can be filthy.  LHP Jacob Lindgren (6-1. 3 saves, 0.88)  has allowed just 20 hits and has 93 strikeouts in 51 innings.  And, Jonathan Holder has the rep of being one of the best relief men in the SEC.  Holder is 6-1 with seven saves and an ERA of 2.38.  He, too, is a strikeout guy.

DEFENSE:  Very solid.  They’ve made the fewest errors (46) of anyone in the tournament. The double play combination of Heck and Pirtle have combined for just ten errors all season.  Collins has thrown out 11-33 would be base stealers.  It will be interesting to see how the range for the ‘Dogs infielders is affected by on the artificial surface.

OVERVIEW:  State played in Omaha last year, advancing to the championship series.  This is a battle tested team with plenty of veterans.  They’re not going to wow you with their offense, but they’re fundamentally sound and their hitters will battle a pitching staff.  Cajuns’ coach Tony Robichaux talks about winning games with pitching, defense and timely hitting.  John Cohen’s club is one of college baseball’s poster children for that philosophy.  They’ll rely on their pitching staff to carry them through the regional.  And, they’re deep enough to do it.  If they lose a game, they won’t run out of pitchers as they navigate the loser’s bracket.  This is a very formidable #2 seed.

 

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