May 27, 2013 10:24:41 PM
Matthew Stevens - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State University baseball coaching staff won't have to look far into the archives for scouting material on its regional opponents.
A day after being selected to host a NCAA baseball regional for the first time in a decade, No. 14 MSU (43-17) learned the other three teams joining them this weekend at Dudy Noble Field have been opponents on the schedule in the past two seasons.
MSU closed the season by securing a host bid, which was considered a lock by all the national analysts by the end of last week, with wins in seven of its last nine contests, including a 3-1 mark at last week's Southeastern Conference tournament in Hoover, Ala.
"Having played in a regional tournament at Dudy Noble Field three times during my career at Mississippi State, I can attest to the electric atmosphere that our fans create," MSU coach John Cohen said.
"I'm excited about our players having the opportunity to experience that great tournament atmosphere here. They have earned this opportunity to play in front of the best college baseball fans in America."
All three other opponents have had that same experience Cohen is referring to after having played in Starkville in the past two seasons. The University of South Alabama, Mercer University and the University of Central Arkansas were the three schools placed in the 2013 Starkville Regional to start Friday with opening round games at 2 and 7 p.m.
MSU's 2013 resume included an ratings percentage ranking of 10, a record of 21-15 against schools in the top 50 of the RPI. The Bulldogs played the toughest SEC schedule this season, with its 10 opponents owning an average RPI rank of 25.1 - all of those teams currently reside in the top 50.
MSU has previously hosted 11 NCAA Baseball Regionals, with the last coming in 2003. Dudy Noble Field also was home to Mississippi State's 2007 NCAA Super Regional victory over Clemson. The Bulldogs have advanced six of the 12 times when hosting postseason rounds.
The Bulldogs opening round opponent knows exactly what it takes to defeat the home team in Starkville after taking the final two games of a three-game series. Central Arkansas (39-20) defeated MSU 7-5 and 7-3 to represent the Bulldogs only non-conference losses in the 2013 season.
"I think if you add up the four RPI together you have the most difficult regional in the country," Cohen said Monday. "We played the most difficult Southeastern Conference schedule so our kids are used to these opportunities to prove themselves."
Central Arkansas, who will be making its first ever appearance in a NCAA regional after winning the Southland Conference tournament, took down the nation's longest winning streak that weekend after a 10-inning game at Starkville on March 9. MSU had won 17 in a row before Saturday's defeat and 20 in a row at Dudy Noble Field dating back to a sweep of the University of Kentucky on May 17-19, 2012.
UCA senior catcher Michael Marietta, a Oak View, Calif., native, batted .500 (6-for-12) that weekend including the only home run ever given up by MSU sophomore closer Jonathan Holder at that point.
"MSU has so many quality arms that it was nice to see somebody like Marietta have that kind of success," Gum said on March 10. "I actually didn't think offensively we brought our best game this weekend but in a big environment, against a SEC team, we did enough pitching and defense to take two games. I'm thrilled for our guys to be able to say that."
The Bulldogs and UCA will play at 7 p.m. at Dudy Noble Field with all games being online broadcasts on ESPN3.com
South Alabama (42-18), the two-seed at-large team from the Sun Belt Conference, has played MSU in each of the last seven seasons with the Bulldogs winning five of those games. The Jaguars were one of four Sun Belt teams to earn a spot in the NCAA regionals, joining league co-champ Troy as well as Florida Atlantic, which won the Sun Belt tournament and claimed the league's automatic berth, and Lafayette. South Alabama features first baseman/left handed pitcher Jordan Patterson as the junior is hitting .360 with 49 RBIs and a .493 on-base percentage.
Second-seed South Alabama, who leads the Sun Belt Conference in pitching strikeouts, will face third-seed Mercer University at 2 p.m., Friday as the Bears (43-16) are sixth in the nation in home runs. Mercer scored 10 runs in a three game series last season where MSU took two victories. However, Mercer's three home runs that weekend took the attention of MSU's pitching staff still on the roster one year later.
"Yeah, they can swing it," Holder said of Mercer. "They swing the bats pretty good. Our pitching staff can handle them and we'll look at scouting reports to see who is hot and who is not."