This may be a random, scattered article simply because this is a crazy time of the year with all of the SEC Tournament games crammed together and then you have the regional selections. So, bear with me.
First- the SEC Tournament. We played Missouri for the first time as a member of the SEC and that was a classic trap game for us. The Tigers were playing for their lives and throwing their ace. We were throwing our bullpen. The result was the game that never ends. Well, when it finally did end and MSU came out on top 2-1 which was extremely important to MSU because had the Bulldogs lost, I honestly do not think they would be hosting. If you stayed up through that entire game, you should get a free omelet from MSU cafeteria. It was not pretty, but it was a win. And more importantly, it erased pretty much any doubt that MSU should host.
Next up was South Carolina (again) and MSU beat South Carolina (again). Again, this was another quietly under the radar big win because it erased any doubt about whether MSU should be the third SEC team in the regional pecking order. Myles Gentry was definitely the story of this game with his 5.2 inning performance with 8 strike outs. Gentry is yet another Butch Thompson special- while he hasn’t pitched a lot lately, he has been working on varying his arm angles while he was out and now MSU has a secret weapon out of the already deep bullpen. Without question, that is going to be very valuable in the postseason for MSU. And as I have said for about a year now, I think Gentry is going to be a lot like Caleb Reed for us. Someone that can throw over the top and then also drop down. Myles may very well end up being even better because he is ahead of where Caleb was at this stage of their careers plus, Gentry throws a little bit harder.
I was a little disappointed when we had to play Texas A&M to be honest with you. Playing Vanderbilt would have been much more beneficial to the Dogs. But as it was, Kendall Graveman pitched decently, but Butch called on the usual cast of characters in Ben Bracewell, Ross Mitchell and then Jonathan Holder to finish the game out. Adam Frazier was completely locked in and then Brett Pirtle had some really good at bats to lead us to a solid 6-4 win. I know Kendall was upset about coming out of the game, but I’m glad we did because I want him to be totally ready for our regional that we will be hosting.
NOW we get to play Vanderbilt after a day off and once again, it was Jacob Lindgren melting down after the defense let him down. He HAS TO learn how to put things out of his control behind him and attack the current hitter and focus on getting him out and minimizing damage. Lindgren only allowed two hits, but he was charged with 6 runs, 3 of which were earned because he hit a couple of batters and he walked one. All that said- I would not worry too much about Jacob. He was dominant against non-conference competition, and that’s what he is going to face in the regional. You will see the benefit of playing in the SEC this weekend when our guys aren’t playing RPI top 50 caliber teams every single game. The best thing that came out of the Vanderbilt loss was Hunter Renfroe breaking out of his slump, and he is someone that I think could have a really big postseason. You could really tell that he was doing a much better job of staying back, keeping his hands back and not trying to do too much. We also got to use a lot of pitchers such as Daryl Norris and Evan Mitchell and we got to see how they performed and whether they could help us or not. We also scored 8 runs and the truth of the matter is if we do that, we are going to win most of our games.
And with that, another SEC Tournament is in the books. And while we didn’t win the SEC Tournament, we at least had a good showing and didn’t hurt ourselves and we may have even helped ourselves.
Now- it’s confession time. I love baseball. I do not like the SEC Tournament. To me, it doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than making some money for the SEC. You have a bunch of teams and they try to cram a bunch of games into about four-five days. And the format never makes any sense no matter what they do. Some people say, “Well, too many teams make it”- but the reason why they put so many teams in is because very deserving teams were getting left out of regionals because they didn’t make the SEC Tournament. Why not just go ahead and have all 14 teams in the tournament, and the top two teams by record get byes? And then teams 3-14 play a single elimination game to trim the field down to eight teams. Since the tournament is in Birmingham and they have three functional professional fields once the new stadium in Birmingham is built, that seems to be doable. And you can tell Larry Templeton came up with the format of this thing when there is literally no reward for being in the winners bracket. MSU lost one game and was eliminated? The Bulldogs earned the right to play another game against Vanderbilt. But now, all of a sudden on Saturday they are worried about pitchers getting hurt? I say have the single elimination games on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then go with the double elimination starting on Thursday and Friday. Then the losers bracket gets settled on Saturday, and then on Sunday the final four teams play to determine who makes it to the championship game (double elimination of course) and the championship game is played on Memorial Day. Yes, they announce the host sites before, but they don’t announce the field until Monday and if there is a Cinderella team, that team isn’t going to host anyway.
I would be totally remiss if I did not mention how I think the tournament should be moved to Memphis. I have been to the SEC Tournament, and Hoover does a great job. But at the very least, the SEC should quit insulting everyone’s intelligence with excuses about RV’s and good crowds when the championship game isn’t even sold out. There were 10,590 fans there today for the championship game for a stadium that seats 10,800 and has a capacity for 16,000 fans per wikipedia, and Heaven help me if the Birmingham Barons are lying about their seating capacity. And that was with LSU which allegedly has fans that would travel to Mogadishu to watch their beloved Tigers play Yahtzee. I would have a LOT more respect for Mike Slive if he just told the truth and said “It’s convenient for us to host it in Hoover because they know how to run it and we don’t have to train anybody new, we have relationships with the local area to house the players, and we really don’t care about what the fans think and or would like.”
But forget the SEC Tournament. Let’s talk about a tournament at a stadium that the fans actually like and want to go to- the MISSISSIPPI STATE REGIONAL. Now, the fun part is, we don’t know who we are playing yet. But what we do know is we are hosting for the first time since 2003, the first time in the John Cohen era. This is definitely a bench mark after coming so close last year. I can honestly say that Mississippi State has earned this opportunity and all of the players should be congratulated. This is a team that without question played the most difficult SEC schedule and on top of that lost their ace for the entire season. And yet, the Bulldogs have a pitching staff that ranks in the top half of the SEC and arguably the deepest bullpen which helps make up for the average starting pitching. The Bulldogs are also in the top half of the SEC in hitting, and they feature two of the most exciting offensive players in the SEC in Hunter Renfroe and Adam Frazier.
To me, so much of MSU great baseball history is centered around the regionals. That’s where people think of the huge crowds, the Left Field Lounge being packed, and great moments like Burke Masters grand slam, Brooks Bryan’s Bar-b-cue glove catch, and on and on. That’s what makes this so exciting- because it has been SO long. But this time, there is going to be ONE major difference- every regional game will be televised this year a la March Madness. This is going to be HUGE for our recruiting from a national standpoint because now, recruits are going to be watching across the country and they are going to see a lot of empty seats at Kansas State, but then they see a packed out mad house in Starkville- it’s going to help us out tremendously. People in Mississippi and the south know about MSU’s regionals, but I think nationally, it’s kind of a “best kept secret” type of thing. Also, I really enjoy watching the other teams that we don’t get to see a whole lot and we get to learn about some really good mid major programs and also maybe get to meet some fans from another conference that we may not get to see a lot- like Clemson during the Super Regional.
So, who will be coming to Starkville? It could be anyone that is not hosting already and is not in the SEC. Just a random guess, but I’m expecting the two seed to be either an ACC team like Miami or Georgia Tech or a mid major like South Alabama. If the two seed is an ACC team, I would expect to see a mid major team like an Austin Peay or an at large Sun Belt team like maybe a Florida Atlantic, and if it is a mid major at two, I would guess that they would send an at large from a major conference as the three seed- probably from the ACC or Big 12. I would like to see the four seed be Jackson State because they are from Mississippi. I’ve heard Army mentioned for some reason- and they would be my second choice. But at any rate it will be a team that won their conference tournament and they could be from literally anywhere. I do not think USM will make the regionals this year since they lost their conference tournament and their RPI is 105 per Warren Nolan. Tommorrow at 11 CST we find out for sure, and the good news is we won’t be on pins and needles like a lot of teams who don’t know if they are going to make it or not.
It’s a great day to be a Bulldog and I look forward to seeing everyone at the regional, although I don’t think I’m going to have to beg people to show up this time!