Mississippi State

Mississippi State has tough task despite hosting

 Mississippi State pitcher Zac Houston and the Bulldogs are set to host a NCAA Tournament regional.
VASHA HUNT/AL.COM/AP/FILE Mississippi State pitcher Zac Houston and the Bulldogs are set to host a NCAA Tournament regional. AP

John Cohen and his players didn't have a clue who Mississippi State was paired against in their regional around 11:15 a.m. Monday morning.

They didn't even know if they were a national seed.

The Bulldogs (41-16-1) were busy practicing for that regional taking cuts at the plate and throwing bullpen sessions. Shortly after that, Cohen got the news that the Bulldogs were the field's No. 6 national seed and they had a pairing of two-seed Cal State Fullerton, three-seed Louisiana Tech and four-seed Southeast Missouri State.

Without even watching the teams on tape, Cohen sees a mega challenge ahead.

"I have seen SEMO's left-hander on film already and he's really good. His numbers are phenomenal," Cohen said. "I know how good the pitching is with Cal State Fullerton and how good they are. Obviously with Jake (Wells) being on our staff in 2013, I know how much has gone into Louisiana Tech. If you combined all the RPI's of this regional it's pretty darn good. Pretty competitive."

MSU starts off regional play by taking on the Red Hawks on Friday afternoon at 6:30 p.m. La Tech and Cal State Fullerton will meet in the 1:30 p.m. game that same day.

Game 1 won't be a cupcake for the home team. MSU hosts the Ohio Valley Conference tournament champs in SEMO (39-19) who bring in ace pitcher Joey Lucchesi (10-4, 1.87 ERA) who's piled up 145 strikeouts to just 37 walks in 105 2/3 innings pitched.

Add in the fact that the offense has a .310 team batting average with 59 home runs and 124 doubles and it's reason for a team to be on their toes. The productivity of the offense will make it a tough decision on who Cohen will start on the mound but top pitcher Dakota Hudson could get the nod Friday.

"We've got to see SEMO play before we make that decision," Cohen said. "I couldn't tell you right now what their left-right (handed batters) situation is. You've got to know how their ball park plays to really understand their statistics. We've got to get all of that figured out quickly."

Of course, the elephant in the room for Cohen is the potential matchup with Cal State Fullerton and pitching coach Jason Dietrich who was a candidate for MSU's pitching coach position in the fall. Dietrich said the move wasn't "the right fit."

The Titans (35-21) come to Starkville as the No. 2 seed in the regional but have the nation's top pitching staff with an ERA of 2.21. Cohen believes it's one of the top programs in college baseball and they're no stranger to winning big games away from the West Coast.

"In '88 they came in here and brought a really talented club and won our regional here and went to Omaha," Cohen said of the Titans. "It's not uncommon for Fullerton to have success in other parts of the country; they have one of the greatest dynasties in the history of college baseball. They can really pitch, they can really defend. They just win ball games.

"They're just mentally strong and (Dietrich) he does a great job with that. They're a really good club. When you play the schedule that they do, they're going to be mentally tested."

The Bulldogs' regional selection is their 13th in school history. They were selected as a national seed for the first time since the NCAA switched to the model in 1999. They were one of seven SEC schools to earn a host spot with an NCAA record four of those being national seeds.