June 8, 2011 8:58:00 AM
STARKVILLE - Don''t take the foot off the pedal.
That''s the approach Mississippi State hitters plan to take heading into this wee''s NCAA Super Regional series at the University of Florida.
After all, the same offensive surge last weekend allowed the Bulldogs to power past Georgia Tech and Austin Peay in the Atlanta regional. MSU scored early in each game, compiling six or more runs before the fifth inning.
The difference with this series is Florida''s pitching, which finished third in the Southeastern Conference in ERA. Just as important, the pitching staff allowed the fewest walks in the SEC with 116 - 47 fewer than the next closest team.
"I think we can be aggressive because they''re strike throwers," MSU outfielder Brent Brownlee said. "They come in there and attack the zone, but we still got to take the elevated fastball and any borderline pitches. I think we can be just as aggressive and jump on them early, just like we did in the regional when we had all of our runs before the fourth inning. I think just giving our pitching that insurance of those runs is huge for us."
MSU has enjoyed mixed success against Florida this season, posting a one-run win at home and scoring five in a two-run loss in the SEC tournament. Then, there''s an 18-0 loss and a 3-1 defeat at home in which MSU had two runners on with one out in the bottom of the ninth before ending the game with back-to-back fly-outs.
That stretch of the season was indicative of how the Bulldogs were playing - struggling to score runs.
Prior to the Florida series, the Bulldogs scored five runs total in a series sweep at Georgia.
"We were struggling at that point and only had a few guys that were hitting on all cylinders," MSU first baseman Ryan Collins said. "Now we''re doing a good job of getting guys on and getting clutch hits. It''s been different and it''s been huge here at the end of the season."
Florida''s ballpark, Alfred A. McKethan Stadium, is conducive to its style of play: the deep ball. The Gators hit four home runs in three regional games and led the SEC this season with 58 home runs.
There''s a challenge for MSU''s pitchers, too, who have faced Florida at Dudy Noble Field and at Regions Park, arguably the largest venues either team will have played at this season.
Like MSU''s hitters, its pitchers must remain aggressive.
"There''s no question you''ve got to pitch down in the zone at Florida," MSU coach John Cohen said. "When I was there, it was a double-whammy offensively: if you went down in the zone the infield played really fast. If you went up in the zone, the ball jumps out of the ballpark. It''s a difficult place to pitch."
In the postseason, though, Cohen believes the adjustments will be quick after facing the Gators four times, but also after playing in Georgia Tech''s park, which plays tight down the sidelines and has a one shorter alley and one longer alley.
To Cohen, nothing about what they''ll see this weekend should surprise his players.
Another positive Cohen and his players note is the defensive play of MSU''s outfield, which provided error-free play in Atlanta and prevented a half-dozen hits with great timing and speed to chase down fly-balls.
"Our pitchers are gonna go right after them, so we just got to be ready for the early contact and keep making plays in the gaps and down the lines," Brownlee said. "I feel like we''ve got great speed out there and we''re able to run down the gaps. Their center field plays big, so we feel good with C.T. (Bradford) running down balls and Jaron (Shepherd) in right field running them down as well. They play the lines very well, so we''ve got to watch out for that."
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