June 12, 2013 10:42:06 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- All of the Mississippi State University baseball team's fans -- and even some of the Bulldogs' coaches -- complained about the program's Southeastern Conference schedule in 2013.
Following MSU's 6-5 victory against No. 6 national seed University of Virginia on Monday in the NCAA Charlottesville Super Regional, MSU coach John Cohen admitted the SEC's most difficult slate prepared his club for the postseason.
"Two years ago, I got our schedule for this (2013) season, and usually it doesn't matter, except we just got our 13th and 14th members of our league," Cohen said. "I said, 'My goodness.' (I knew we were) going to be playing the most difficult schedule in our league."
MSU's SEC schedule featured teams with a combined Rating Percentage Index (RPI) at least 10 spots higher than the next league opponent. The Bulldogs (48-18) had 21 victories against opponents in the RPI top 50 when the NCAA tournament brackets were announced three weeks ago. Only the University of North Carolina, Vanderbilt University, and LSU had more RPI top 50 victories at that time.
"At first you're thinking, 'Why didn't we get the benefit of our schedule here and here?' " Cohen said. "Now I'm saying, 'Thank goodness we got the schedule we did. The 16-14 we put up in our league prepared us better for these types of moments."
Virginia coach Brian O'Connor, whose team was No. 3 in the RPI three weeks ago, said the intensity of the Super Regional series may have overcome his Cavaliers (50-12) and played a role in their losing two straight games at home for the first time this season.
"It's just different this time of the year than a three-game set in March and April," O'Connor said. "We didn't handle it well at all. That's not a knock on Mississippi State University. A major part of the reason we didn't play well is they played extraordinary."
MSU used a care-free attitude and a workmanlike approach to score 17 runs in two games against one of the nation's best pitching staffs. The reward is the program's first College World Series berth since 2007. MSU will take on No. 3 national seed Oregon State University (50-11) at 2 p.m. Saturday.
"When you know you're facing a SEC slate every weekend, you know you're going to take it on the chin and lose some games," MSU junior shortstop Adam Frazier said. "Teams in this league are too good and too talented everywhere for somebody to dominate. What you do is learn to overcome adversity better in those circumstances."
On Friday, the SEC released its baseball schedule for the 2014 season. The University of Florida, University of South Carolina, and University of Kentucky will rotate off MSU's schedule and will be replaced by schools -- University of Missouri, University of Tennessee and University of Georgia -- that finished in the bottom three spots of the league.
MSU's SEC schedule helped it post the seventh-best strength of schedule in the country, which helped it play host to its first NCAA tournament regional in a decade.