Maniscalco hopes he has quite a few starts left as the Diamond Dogs open SEC Tournament play Wednesday against instate rival Ole Miss at the Hoover, (Ala.) Met. The 16 NCAA Regional site selections will be posted Sunday, May 25, while the entire 64-team field will be announced Memorial Day on ESPN2.
A whiz with his glove and the bat, "Manny" got an opportunity to exchange a little mutual respect with Mississippi State's enormous fan base Sunday in the Dogs' SEC series-clinching, 9-1, win over Alabama when he was replaced at short by Josh Thoms in the final inning.
Maniscalco, of Oxford, Ala., came to play in the regular-season finale, going 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI while helping manufacture the first run of the game. After leading off the game with a hard single, he stole second base and then raced home on a two-out single by first baseman Matthew Brinson. One of the best-fielding shortstops in the country, Maniscalco started an inning-ending double play in the sixth to erase a Tide threat.
Maniscalco was taken out of the game with one out in the bottom half of the ninth inning, a gesture by Mississippi State veteran coach Ron Polk, to give the fans a chance to show their appreciation for the Dogs' outstanding middle infielder.
"We got a chance to get "Manny" out and give the crowd the opportunity to recognize him. I've done that before for other players and "Manny's" started so many games in his career here and he's been outstanding."
Maniscalco said he hoped it wasn't the last time to play at Dudy Noble Field.
"I appreciate the gesture and everything and it means a lot to me. I appreciate the fans especially staying through the rain delays, but I really believe we're going to be back here, have a chance to host an NCAA Regional.
"If we go over there (Birmingham) and play well like I believe we will then we'll have a chance to get back here to play," he said after the Diamond Dogs had downed the Tide, their fifth SEC series win this season.
One of the keys to winning the SEC Tournament could be the pitching matchups with the normal Friday starters possibly not be ready to throw opening-round games.
No. 14 Mississippi State (38-16-1, 15-12 SEC), the No. 4 seed and overall the winningest team in the league, will have available its No. 2 starter Alan Johnson (5-3, 4.08) who worked only one inning (51 pitches) on Saturday against Alabama.
"That could be huge," noted Maniscalco and acknowledged by Polk, who has nominated Johnson to pitch against Ole Miss, a team he tossed a two-hit, 7-0, shutout against in March, earning him SEC Pitcher of the Week honors.
"If he (Johnson) starts, that could be big time," said Maniscalco, who'll be returning to his home state for the league tournament.
"Not everybody's No. 1 is going to be able to go and he's (Johnson) just as good as a No. 1 ... and then we'll have Paul (Maholm) for the next day. If we just take it game by game and go out there and try to win every day and hopefully, have that off day on Friday. It's a blast.
"We're going over there to win. Nothing else. We're not going to be happy if we go over there and win one game, win two games. We want to win ... anything less is going to be disappointing."
It took two rain delays and nearly five hours at the park, but Mississippi State maintained its focus, to put away the Tide and win the deciding game of the series.
In a tuneup for the postseason, the Bulldogs banged out 14 hits, the third straight league game in which they reached the double-digit hit total.
Former prep teammates at Hattiesburg, Miss., before joining the Bulldogs, junior righthander Jeff Lacher (6-0), a possible Game 3 starter if the Dogs can hang on, pitched brilliantly, making his second SEC start, while redshirt freshman catcher Craig Tatum, 2-for-4, hit a solo home run, his sixth of the season to help spark the Diamond Dogs.
Second baseman Thomas Berkery had two hits and three RBIs while Brinson and DH Robby Goodson also had two hits each.
"Jeff Lacher pitched well," noted Polk. "He's a competitor and he's got some weapons."
It was "Senior Day" at Dudy Noble Field. Maniscalco, Brian Owens, Steven Dowe, Joey Collums and Jacob Blakeney were honored in pregame ceremonies.
Polk said it's one of the longest weekends in baseball he could recall.
"That was one of the longest days in my life (Saturday) waiting around. This was a long day (Sunday), too, when we had the first rain delay and then the second.
"But the fans hung in there pretty good," noted Polk, adding, "we would like to reward our fans with, hopefully, a regional, but we'll have to play well in the SEC Tournament."
Junior relief ace Jonathan Papelbon made his 22nd appearance of the season, working 1 1/3 innings, giving up no hits and no runs in closing out the contest.
Defending SEC Tournament champ Alabama (33-22, 14-16) is also headed back to Hoover, locking up a berth on the final day of the regular season, coupled with Kentucky's 7-5 win over Florida on the final day at Gainesville.
"Jonathan Papelbon got some work and we got some timely hitting early and scored some runs. We hit the ball well and played good defense," noted Polk of the Dogs, who turned in two errorless games in the series.
"We're happy we're in, happy we don't have to play at 10 a.m. in the morning," said Maniscalco, anxious to play again before the Dudy Noble Field crowd.
"I feel good about our chances of hosting a regional, but we need to play well in the SEC Tournament."
Maniscalco said he couldn't believe his four years in Starkville had gone so fast.
"It seems like just yesterday I was a freshman on campus," he said.
Now that would thrill Mississippi State baseball fans, no doubt, to see Manny's career starting all over in Maroon and White.
Don Foster, a veteran newspaper writer who is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News, writes a weekly article for Gene's Page. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org