It’s tournament time, and 12 teams have descended upon Hoover, Alabama with a shot at the SEC title on the line.
Fresh off of a sweep of #1 Florida, Mississippi State drew the #9 seed in the SEC Tournament and will face off with LSU today at 4:30 p.m.
The season obviously did not start the way the Bulldogs would’ve hoped. They lost their head coach after the first series of the season, and at one point, MSU was 14-15 and just 2-7 in the SEC. After a mid-week win in early April, MSU then took two of three from Ole Miss, who was ranked #3 at the time. This signaled a new start for MSU, and they were able to play the second half of the season with a renewed sense of confidence. They also finished the regular season by winning 7 of their last 10.
“In terms of the peaks and valleys of a season, most every season has plenty. In terms of what path we took this year, I’ve never been a part of anything quite as unique as what we’ve gone through and it’s been really interesting,” interim head coach Gary Henderson said. “There’s been a lot of growth from the player’s standpoint, from the coaching standpoint, from my standpoint, and it’s been a unique year no question.”
As far as how they can keep things rolling in the postseason, Henderson says that it’s all about keeping things simple and focusing on the fundamentals.
“The only way you roll that success forward is if you get good starting pitching. That’s the first that needs to happen, and then obviously all the things that help make up the game that are important. You’ve got to play good defense, you’ve got to be really competitive in the box, but it starts with starting pitching,” Henderson said.
Speaking of starting pitching, Konnor Pilkington will likely get the start for MSU, and in the Bulldog’s last series with LSU, he took the loss in the opener. Pilkington pitched 6 shutout innings but gave up 5 runs in the 7th and his night was over. The junior has given up 7 runs in 2 of his last 3 outings, so he’ll have to settle down to give his team a chance in this one.
Offensively, the Bulldogs are led by Jake Mangum who leads the SEC with 82 hits on the year. During the tail end of the regular season, MSU has started to get more consistent production out of several other players such as Elijah MacNamee, Hunter Stovall and Jordan Westerberg. If the Bulldog bats stay hot, they may be able to make a run in the tournament.
#8-seeded LSU heads to Hoover with a 33-22 overall record on the year and they’re 15-15 in the SEC, matching the Bulldogs’ SEC record. While the regular season may not have been ideal for the Tigers, they seem to play their best when it matters the most as they hold a league-best 81-40 all-time record in the SEC Tournament. While every season may be different, head coach Paul Mainieri knows that his squad is ready to go for the single-elimination game.
“We have always played very well in the SEC Tournament, and our team is looking forward to facing a Mississippi State club that is playing great baseball. The tournament is a special event, and any time LSU and Mississippi State meet in a baseball game, there’s going to be a tremendous environment. I know our players will be ready to embrace the challenges that arise in postseason play.”
First pitch from Hoover Metropolitan Stadium is set for 4:30 p.m. and the winner will face #1 Florida on Wednesday.
Ole Miss awaits the winner of today’s Kentucky/Auburn matchup.