Division-Leading Dogs Refocus for Home Stand After Fourth SEC Series Success

Getting back home fast was fine…just, a little tight for Nathaniel Lowe. “It was kind of cramped!” the 6-3 (and looks taller) Diamond Dog said of the commuter-size plane. “I can’t really stand up straight! But it was fun. It was nice to come back with a W.”

Yeah. Plan, bus, car, heck, hitching home…whatever the means Mississippi State players would have returned to campus happy. Taking a series at Florida does that for a Dog. Especially so for a Bulldog first baseman who played his junior college ball in Florida.

Then again, ever since SEC season began Lowe has been having a good time. Even before, the transfer said. “It’s so much fun. Getting to the ball park every day, practice day, game day, it’s always fun. Because we know we’ve got a chance to win a national title.”

Had Lowe or any of his teammates said something along those lines before, it would have been dismissed as ordinary player optimism. Now? National title talk is taken as routine. The weekend’s winning at then-#1 Florida, as well as three preceding SEC series and a before-that sweep of Oregon, has Mississippi State being measured for Omaha opportunity.

What it has not done, yet, is push the Diamond Dogs (23-9-1, 8-4 SEC) to the very top of the rankings. They’re close this week. Two of the multitudinous national polls put Mississippi State second, behind Miami; another third. The lowest listing is 8th.

Now, baseball polls are excellent examples of entertaining-but-not-important. Evidence is offered with the rankings which still have Florida, now third in the SEC overall, ahead of State. That aggravates fans. It doesn’t faze Lowe, for one. He didn’t expect to be #1 at this point.

“The midweek losses kind of took that away from us. That’s kind of the elephant in the room as far as the polls go. But we know we’re a really good team and the rankings don’t really matter.”

What does matter is continuing to win. Mississippi State’s next chance is 6:30 Wednesday with Memphis visiting. The real tests though come to town along with Texas A&M, as the Bulldogs put their four-series-win streak on the line against a squad which was #1 itself for a week.

“Oh yeah, every weekend is going to be a grind,” Lowe said. “There’s good teams top-to-bottom. But we’re excited, we like our chances this weekend.”

There was much to like about these Bulldogs already. Success in Gainesville showed more. State won a weekend, against an elite opponent, without the dominant starting pitching of prior series. And, without a key part in the offensive lineup as OF Jacob Robson (hand injury) missed all three games.

So all that happened was other pitchers raised their game, other hitters picked up any slack, and the Dogs kept winning. Speaking just for the offense, Lowe said this shows the depth and strength of the roster.

“It’s nice. If one guy doesn’t have a good day then somebody is going to have a good day. Because there are guys top-to-bottom, one-through-nine and even guys in the dugout that are still really good players.”

Certainly Lowe enjoyed watching OF Jake Mangum go nuts for two games with 6-of-10 hitting at the top of the order. “We don’t know how he does it, but he does it for us.” More fun was seeing SS Ryan Gridley slug a Sunday home run…

…though, “We’ll never hear the end of that,” Lowe said. “We’ve got it going on at the house, I live with Gridley and I always want to hit more home runs than he does.” As of how the tall first baseman and the smaller middle infielder are tied at two longballs. “But it’s nice for him.”

Adding to the flight-back frivolity was ribbing 2B John Holland about his not-home-run. The hit was big anyway, a clutch and ruled-double that caught a part of the Perry Field outfield wall which upon review should have been ruled a homer. It was reviewed, and not reversed. Holland still got what proved the winning RBI to third base for C Elih Marrero to plate.

But, since the Dogs did win, they could give grief about it all. “A bit!” said Lowe, adding Holland is getting a little resigned to such stuff. He was robbed, spectacularly, by the Georgia rightfielder of a drive over the Dudy Noble Field fence, remember.

“He was joking saying he’s not going to hit one this year. But he’ll get one out.”

Lowe has overcome a slow start and climbed to .323, and is slugging at a .441 rate with nine doubles and the two homers. His glove-work at first base has been flawless so far as well. But it’s the big bat potential State recruited him for, and Lowe is living up to expectations. The only reason he has ‘just’ 23 RBI in 33 games is that aforementioned offensive versatility.

In other words, when Robson and Mangum are on bases, it’s best to be next Dog-up. Standing on-deck Lowe has got to watch teammates driving the fast fellows around and in. Lowe is reminded of his season at St. John’s River College, actually.

“I was blessed last year with Kyle Hann always on base for me and another guy. It was almost like candy because every other swing was a RBI even if I’m getting out. It was somebody always in scoring position, it was really relaxing.”

The Diamond Dogs aren’t relaxing about the week ahead. Having battled to the top of the SEC West and into top-five status nationally, they also recognize it’s a fragile affair. Particularly so with their nearest Division rival A&M coming to town.

But, it’s exactly the pressure Mississippi State should expect. Plus, this is Super Bulldog Weekend. Hmmm. A SEC contender, a top-five-ranked club on a winning-weekend streak, popular players; even good weather forecast…does that sound like a formula for filling a ballpark to record proportions?

“But that’s what I signed-up for coming here,” said Lowe. “I spent enough time playing in front of fifty people at juco that it’s time to play in front of the big crowds.

“But we can’t get too emotional. We’ve just got to play baseball.”

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