May 9, 2014 7:18:41 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State baseball coach John Cohen keeps saying his players know what's at stake as they jockey for postseason position in final month of the regular season.
"We understand that for this weekend to not be the final games this season at Dudy Noble Field, we've probably got to do something special, like win a lot of games in a row," MSU senior pitcher Ben Bracewell said.
No. 21 MSU (31-18, 14-10 Southeastern Conference) will try to extend its three-game winning streak this weekend when it plays host to Tennessee. Game 1 of the three-game series is set for 6:30 p.m. Friday. With only the Tennessee series and a three-game set next weekend at Alabama remaining in the regular season, MSU knows it has work to do if it wants to play host to back-to-back regionals at Dudy Noble Field for the first time since 1989-90. MSU is No. 37 in the latest Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). The NCAA uses RPI as one factor to determine at-large teams to the NCAA tournament and to determine which teams earn the chance to play host to the regionals.
Even though MSU is third in the overall SEC standings, it has the 10th best RPI in the league. Without having Eastern Division powers Florida, South Carolina, and Kentucky on its league slate, MSU has one series win against the nine teams ahead of it.
"You look at the finality of the senior weekend celebrations coming and, as a coach, you're always nervous that it'll eliminate the drive we have and that's to get back to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series," Cohen said.
MSU hoped to get a RPI boost from its series against Tennessee and Alabama, but Tennessee lost to UNC Asheville 7-5 Tuesday to North Carolina-Asheville (13-33) in Knoxville, Tenn. The loss dropped the Volunteers (28-18, 10-14) from 31st to 40th in the RPI rankings. Tennessee has lost its last two mid-week games against mid-major opponents.
"For whatever reason our focus wasn't in place, and I take the blame for that," Tennessee coach Dave Serrano said after the loss. "We didn't deserve to win that game. ... That team played better than us, and that is what is so beautiful about this sport."
Perfect Game national college baseball writer Kendall Rogers has MSU as a high No. 2 seed in a regional hosted by Miami in his latest NCAA tournament projections. MSU lost twice to Miami in its last appearance in a regional at Coral Gables, Florida, in 2005.
Miami (32-13, 19-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won 21 of its last 23 games, and is 20-9 against teams ranked in the top 100 of the RPI.
Miami's starting rotation of left-handers Chris Diaz (7-0), Andrew Suarez (4-2), and Bryan Radziewski (4-2) have allowed 25 earned runs in their past 15 starts.
Rogers doesn't see much hope for the Bulldogs to rally and earn an opportunity to play host to a regional this year.
"I think Mississippi State would need Ole Miss to do something bad down the stretch and at worst, I think the Rebels split their final two regular season series," Rogers said.
MSU is one game behind Ole Miss in the race for the school's first Western Division regular-season championship since 1984. The closest MSU has come to taking the division title since the conference went back to the two divisional format 22 years ago was second-place finishes in 1992, 1994, 2000, 2001, and 2007.
Special Reports were included in this story.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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