May 18, 2013 7:19:00 PM
STARKVILLE - Let the John Cohen public service announcement of why Mississippi State University baseball should host an NCAA Regional begin.
The first words out of the mouth of the Bulldogs fifth-year coach was pleading his case through the media to the 10-member NCAA selection committee that his team should be returning back to Dudy Noble Field in just over a week.
"I'm not on any committee but I can tell you this...we played the most difficult schedule in the Southeastern Conference and went 16-14," Cohen said. "You always want more but I still think our kids did a great job and we battled through a lot."
MSU's 7-2 victory over the University of South Carolina Saturday closed out their first series win over the Gamecocks since 2009. The Bulldogs (40-16, 16-14 in Southeastern Conference) achieved their first 40-win regular season since 1997. The last two MSU teams that accumulated that regular season win total (1990 and 1997) found themselves in Omaha playing in the College World Series.
With the victory, No. 24 MSU clinched the No. 5 seed in the SEC tournament and will play the University of Missouri Tuesday night in the last game of the day at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala. It will mark the second ever meeting between the two schools with MSU winning the first encounter 10-5 in the 2003 Starkville Regional.
The winner of the MSU-Missouri matchup Tuesday night advances to the double-elimination bracket and will first face No. 4 seed South Carolina Wednesday night.
Without looking at Missouri's lineup or tendencies, Cohen suggested sophomore right hander Trevor Fitts could get his second career start as the Pelham (Ala.) High School star would be playing 25 minutes south off where he went to school before signing with MSU.
No. 14 South Carolina (39-16, 17-12) tied its team high for errors in a conference game with three as the MSU runners forced the visitors into difficult quick catch and throw situations that led to a two-run sixth and three-run eighth.
"We want to defender to think 'that guy can really run so I've got to hurry this play'," Cohen said. "It's kind of like tennis and that unforced errors and in our sport, when that guy can really run some of those errors are forced."
South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook, who said MSU looked like a team headed to Omaha Thursday night, left Starkville wondering if the two unearned runs against starting pitcher Jack Wynkoop were the difference in his team possibly pulling out its fourth road series win.
"I feel it would've been a much more competitive game if we could've fielded the baseball at all but we didn't," Holbrook said. "Mississippi State is a really good team and I have so much respect for how they go about playing winning baseball."
LB Dantzler gave the Gamecocks an early lead on a home run crushed to right field and then hit a second solo home run in the eighth inning to take over second in SEC in round trippers with 14. Those pair of hits by Dantzler would be South Carolina's only extra base hits of the afternoon and only had one other base runner get to second base the whole day.
Demarcus Henderson led the MSU offensive attack with three hits, two runs scored and a pair of RBIs. The junior left fielder is 8 for 24 this month including a pair of three-hit games this weekend against the Gamecocks. Last season Henderson saw his playing time skyrocket in May to lead the Bulldogs at the plate, on the bases and with plays in the outfield.
"I don't know what it is about me but even though high school I start off kind of cold and then warm up my play when they weather warms up," Henderson said. "It's jut all about making the tiny adjustments throughout the season that I'm able to make."
The No. 4-7 spots of the MSU lineup (Brett Pirtle, Wes Rea, C.T. Bradford and Henderson) were 8 for 15 Saturday with all seven runs scored and only three strikeouts. The bottom half of the MSU lineup was able to account for the recent funk that Hunter Renfroe, MSU's Golden Spikes Award finalist, is currently in as the projected first round pick has one extra-base hit in the last month.
"When one of our teammates is down for a short while, all that means is it's our job to pick him up at the plate," Henderson said. "I'll say this - Hunter is a beast and eventually he'll heat up again and get real dangerous for whoever challenges him before the season is over."
Ross Mitchell (10-0), the SEC's current leader in ERA, finished the final 4 2/3 innings for MSU to get the victory as the sophomore allowed just two hits, one run in a 54-pitch outing. The southpaw junk pitcher effectively relieved starter Jacob Lindgren, who began to wear down in the fifth inning, and gave the Bulldogs bullpen a much needed rest for an upcoming postseason run.
"I've been struggling lately and felt off but Thursday night I found my zone again and I'm thankful for that," Mitchell said. "I can't think of a better time to get myself right and when (the coaches) asked me if I could finish this game, I looked them straight in the eye and said 'yes sir'."
With only the guaranteed game left before the NCAA selection committee makes its decision on national seeds, hosting spots and at-large bids, Cohen stated his case loudly why MSU shouldn't be done playing in Starkville. The announcement of the NCAA bracket is Monday May 27 with the national seeds and hosting sites named the previous day.
"I can't lie and tell you we're not sitting in the clubhouse thinking about those things but once we got between the lines, we have to go play," Henderson said. "But it's important to us to be able to host a regional right here at home, that's true."
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