April 29, 2014 10:46:50 AM
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State baseball team is going in the opposite direction when it is supposed to be securing a NCAA tournament bid.
After losing its third Southeastern Conference series in its last four weekends, MSU fell out of the Perfect Game and Baseball America Top 25 polls for the first time this season. The Bulldogs (28-17, 11-10 Southeastern Conference) are 40th in the latest Ratings Percentage Index, which is used to evaluate the at-large selections to the NCAA tournament. MSU's latest RPI and its position two games out of 12th in the SEC standings has it on the bubble for the NCAA tournament.
For a team that was ranked in the preseason top 10 in every major poll, MSU has three SEC series left in the regular season to wrap up a spot in the SEC tournament on May 20-25 in Hoover, Ala., and to solidify its place in the NCAA tournament.
"I'm hoping our kids are a little bit better then than they were in this weekend," MSU coach John Cohen said Sunday after a 6-4 loss to Texas A&M at Dudy Noble Field.
MSU's RPI ranking of 40 is 10 spots lower than 2011, when it snuck into the field as a No. 3 seed in the Atlanta Regional to qualify for its first postseason berth since 2007.
Perfect Game college baseball writer and managing editor Kendall Rogers sees as many as 11 SEC teams fighting for berths into a NCAA Regional this season.
"I can see a record 10 teams in the field right now with 11 deserving a berth because the league is that balanced and talented this season," Rogers said.
After facing Jacksonville State at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Dudy Noble Field, MSU will play nine-straight games against teams in the top 50 in the latest RPI (at Auburn, Tennessee, at Alabama). With MSU 5-10 this season against the RPI top 50, the final month will give it an opportunity to play its way in or out of the field. If MSU doesn't earn an NCAA bid, it could mean both teams from the College World Series national championship series in 2013 won't play in the postseason. Defending national champion UCLA (22-19) is No. 104 in the RPI and has lost nine of its last 13 games. The Pacific-12 Conference also doesn't have a league tournament, which removes a way the Bruins could earn an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.
One of MSU's problems has been its inability to drive in runners on base. While the Bulldogs are second in the SEC in on-base percentage, they are 10th in slugging percentage, 10th in runs scored, 13th in doubles, 13th in home runs, and 12th in total bases.
Second baseman Brett Pirtle is MSU's only hitter in the top 15 of SEC offensive categories. He is hitting .349 with 25 runs scored, but platoon player Derrick Armstrong (.311) has the next highest average. Seniors Wes Rea, Alex Detz, and C.T. Bradford, who were counted on to produce in the middle of the lineup, are hitting .258 with 82 strikeouts in 440 at-bats.
Cohen said he believes in the process, but the number of hard-hit outs the Bulldogs have every game aren't producing results.
"It's hard for me to get upset with my guys when they find barrel and crush a ball but it's right to a defender for a easy catch," Cohen said. "We hit that same ball as the opponent who just scored two runs off it and the guy steps to his left and makes the out. That's baseball. That's why they play 162 games in the big leagues to even these things out."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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