Mississippi State

Mississippi State prepping for Arizona's potent pitching

Mississippi State's Jake Mangum (15) urges his teammates ON during their NCAA Regional Baseball Tournament championship game against Louisiana Tech at Dudy Noble Field in Starkville, Miss., Sunday, June 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Mississippi State's Jake Mangum (15) urges his teammates ON during their NCAA Regional Baseball Tournament championship game against Louisiana Tech at Dudy Noble Field in Starkville, Miss., Sunday, June 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis) AP

STARKVILLE -- In many respects, Arizona and Mississippi State are kindred spirts.

The Bulldogs (44-16-1) and Wildcats (42-21) are as hot as any team in the country, the reason they meet this weekend in the Starkville Super Regional for a chance to go to Omaha and the College World Series.

For head coach John Cohen, he sees those similarities making Arizona a dangerous crew this weekend, especially after their come-from-behind run to the Louisiana-Lafayette Regional championship earlier in the week.

"I really like their club," Cohen said. "In a lot of ways, it kind of reminds me of our situation with some older guys at the top who have had some great years. They play with a little chip on their shoulder, which is something I like. They didn't have the success in previous years they wanted to have and the older kids want to win."

Of course, the likenesses of the teams aren't the only similarities Cohen and Arizona coach Jay Johnson share. Both were hired by former MSU athletic director Greg Byrne who now serves as the Wildcats' leader.

Byrne's hire of Cohen was his first big call at MSU and came under heavy scrutiny by some of the fanbase and by former head coach Ron Polk, who endorsed another former player and assistant in Tommy Raffo. Byrne's decision to stick his neck out for Cohen stayed with the coach for the last eight years.

"I'll always be eternally grateful for Greg for this opportunity at Mississippi State," Cohen said. "In some respects, he had to stand in the fire a little bit to hire me. I'm not sure it was the most convenient thing in the world for him. I know there were some powers that be that did not want to see that happen. I will always be grateful to Greg."

Though there will be many friendly pleasantries exchanged between coaches and AD's on the weekend, there still is games to be played and two teams that want to accomplish their goals of making it to Omaha and competing for a national title.

Tough pitching

For MSU to do that at home, they have some stout pitching in front of them. The Bulldogs have been tested by some of the best arms in the country all season in the SEC and beat the test of tough out-of-conference pitching last weekend in the Starkville Regional.

Another big challenge is in their way with senior right-hander Nathan Bannister for Arizona who lead the Wildcats to a regional championship with two wins last weekend.

Leadoff man and top hitter Jake Mangum has done a little research on the team and what little he's seen is dangerous.

"The only games I was able to watch were both championship games against ULL and Arizona can throw it really well," Jake Mangum said. "They have some guys in their lineup who can really swing it, too. They are a really good ball club. That's why they are still in it right now. I know they will all be ready to play this weekend, we just have to be ready to play our game."

As they have been most of the year, the Bulldogs will be ready for the challenge. State goes into the ball game with another strong week of preparation in the Mississippi heat. When 5 p.m. rolls around Friday, State will be battling for big stakes.

"I think our kids are really excited about this opportunity," Cohen said. "It's a busy time but I think our kids are ready to play. They are ready to play somebody else. The preparation part isn't as fun, obviously, but they've had a great attitude about it."

Friday, Saturday and a potential Sunday game at Dudy Noble Field are all set for 5 p.m. starts. The games will be broadcast on ESPNU on Friday and ESPN2 on Saturday.

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