May 27, 2014 12:19:43 AM
STARKVILLE-- Mississippi State coach John Cohen described the theme of the Lafayette Regional in the first eight words he spoke Monday.
"I don't know anything about San Diego State," Cohen said with a chuckle.
Minutes after seeing their name reveled on ESPNU's NCAA selection show Monday morning, Cohen knew what the other three programs about the four-team tournament. Or more accurately, what they didn't know. None of the four programs have seen each other on the baseball diamond during the 2014 season. This unknown quality to the selections resulted in the scene of non-stop research on Memorial Day in the offices of MSU Hall of Champions building.
"We'll spend the next two or three days working on trying to learn about those guys (San Diego State) but all we know now is they are a very good club," Cohen said about the preparation for their first game opponent on Friday. "As the evil man once said, we have our ways."
One of those ways was having all three assistants walking around the office with their cell phones on speaker talking with coaching contacts all across the country gathering information while they make copies of statistics and scouting reports on all three teams in their regional.
"College baseball coaches nowadays are sneaky in their ways of coming up with things to get some information on an opponent this time of year," Cohen said.
The coaching staff didn't have to go far for their data on its three regional opponents for the 2013 Starkville Regional. They had lost a three-game series to Central Arkansas while playing Mercer and South Alabama the season before. Their scouting reports for that home regional last year could be based on their own players. The earliest matchup between any of the four schools in the Lafayette Regional is a 2010 matchup between MSU and Jackson State where the Bulldogs were upset 3-1 in Pearl.
MSU (37-22) will be going to a new destination for its 34th NCAA tournament appearance as Louisiana-Lafayette has only hosted one previous regional but it was as a 2-seed. The two-seed Ragin' Cajuns hosted with East Carolina as the top seed in 2000 where ULL advanced to their only trip to the College World Series.
"The Omaha team was a bunch of grinders, and this group's definitely a bunch of grinders," ULL coach Tony Robichaux said.
The Bulldogs (37-22) were selected to play in the 2014 NCAA Lafayette Regional on the campus of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. MSU's first game will be 1 p.m. Friday against the Mountain West Conference tournament champion Aztecs (42-19).
Louisiana-Lafayette (53-7) will play Southwest Athletic Conference tournament champion Jackson State (31-23) at 6 p.m. after the MSU/SDSU game is completed.
Even in the modern communication world of 2014, college baseball is still very much a mystery sport for schools separated by multiple time zones because most regular season games that find their way on television are just seen by a limited population on regional cable. The result is the Mississippi State quarterback already having seen the Northwestern defense on television in early games on national television on ESPN's family of national broadcasts. Ask Mississippi State left-handed pitcher Ross Mitchell about San Diego State's lineup and he rightfully had no source of information on the subject.
"I'm sure the coaching staff will get us some reports on the teams we're playing and I'm confident we'll know everything we need to before we even leave for Louisiana," Mitchell said with a smile.
Another way of information gathering might be from the veteran players themselves as they meet different players through the wood bat summer leagues they play in across the country after their college seasons are complete. San Diego State's likely starting pitcher in the opening game against MSU, sophomore righty Bubba Derby, was a important starter for the Bethesda Big Train in Maryland. This is the same team in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League that former MSU power hitter Hunter Renfroe set home run records with in the two season prior to Derby heading to the east coast league.
Derby was named a Louisville Slugger national player of the week by College Baseball Magazine. Derby was given the award after his performance against Air Force on April 4 after struck out a career high 15 batters, while allowing just one run and three hits over 8 1/3 innings.
SDSU and MSU have never faced each other in any of the three major revenue producing sports (football, men's basketball or baseball). MSU split a two-game set vs. La-Lafayette in 1991 at Dudy Noble when the Ragin Cajuns were referred to as Southwestern Louisiana at that time.
Jackson State is set to appear in its sixth NCAA Regional and back-to-back selections after playing at Louisiana State.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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