Mississippi State

'Battle' awaits Mississippi State in Starkville Regional

Mississippi State's Reid Humphreys rounds third to score during the seventh inning of a Southeastern Conference NCAA college baseball tournament game against LSU at the Hoover Met, Thursday, May 26, 2016, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Mississippi State's Reid Humphreys rounds third to score during the seventh inning of a Southeastern Conference NCAA college baseball tournament game against LSU at the Hoover Met, Thursday, May 26, 2016, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) AP

STARKVILLE -- It might not have been the matchup that Mississippi State thought it would be awarded with being a national seed, but the Bulldogs are ready for the challenge.

MSU starts off regional play Friday as it hosts a team that John Cohen said had no business being a four seed in the tournament.

The Ohio Valley Conference champions Southeast Missouri boasts one of the top left-handers in college baseball and an offense that hits over .300. In other words, Cohen is expecting a battle.

"Our regional has the best RPI average of any regional in the country," Cohen said on Thursday. "Southeast Missouri is a great club and they have arguably of the best left handers in the country. (Joey Lucchesi) led the country in strikeouts.

"They are hitting .310 as a club coming in and they are a four seed with an RPI of 45. They are pretty darn good and I think they can beat anyone in the country."

The prospects of matching up against the senior Lucchesi is daunting but the Bulldogs have faced great pitchers all season. Lucchesi was one of the best all year, though, going 10-4 with a 1.87 ERA. He's struck out 145 batters in 105.2 innings and walked only 37.

While SEMO head coach Steve Bieser said on Thursday that his star pitcher had a rough night's sleep on Wednesday and would be a game time decision, MSU is approaching it as if they will be facing the talented lefty who possess a tough set of pitches.

"I think his changeup is one of the best if you are ranking changeups," Cohen said of Lucchesi. "He can throw the fastball in and he can back door the slider into a right-hander. He can go get you 88-92 MPH and he is a great competitor. If you start listing the guys that are pitching in the first game of the NCAA Tournament around the country, he has to be in the group of the top 10 guys."

Though Cohen knows the dangers of good pitching, his team is ready. The Bulldog hitters have faced consistently strong pitching across the SEC landscape. They made it out of the gauntlet in the top tier of the SEC in hitting and they'll be prepared again Friday at 1:30 p.m.

"I think that is one of the great advantages of competing in the SEC," Cohen said. "Coach Wes Johnson said this, SEC play is like playing in 10-consecutive NCAA Super Regionals. Then when you add Oregon into the mix for us it is almost like 11. I think our kids have played in some big situations. They played LSU, they played at Vanderbilt and Florida. All of that prepares you for these opportunities."

The Bulldogs come into tournament play hitting a stron .312 at the plate. Every offensive category has improved for the SEC Champions this season from a year ago and they've added dynamic players to the offense like SEC Freshman of the Year Jake Mangum and All-SEC first team members Nathaniel Lowe and Jack Kruger.

The nucleus of the team gives Cohen an all too familiar feeling that makes him more confident than cautious heading into the start of the tournament Friday.

Not even two losses in a row at the SEC Tournament could change his thoughts on that, especially after seeing the team in workouts the last few days.

"I think our kids are loose," Cohen said. "It kind of reminds me of the 2013 team, because they have fun being around each other and they have fun practicing. Not every group in the country has fun practicing and this group does. I think our kids are ready and I know they are excited about it."

Cohen has yet to announce a starter for the game Friday as they're waiting to see who the Redhawks decide to throw. Junior Dakota Hudson (9-4, 2.35 ERA) is the most possible starter.

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