Mississippi State, the #6 national seed for this year’s NCAA Tournament and #1 in its own Starkville Regional, will play #4 regional seed Southeast Missouri State at 6:30 this Friday at Dudy Noble Field. That game follows a 1:30 matchup of #2 Cal State Fullerton with #3 Louisiana Tech.
The double-elimination tournament runs through Sunday with the possibility of a Monday evening game. The Regional winner advances to the June 10-13 super regional round.
This is the first time Mississippi State has earned a national seeding, since the NCAA changed the post-season tournament in 1999. So the Bulldogs, should they win the Starkville Regional, will automatically host that regional’s winner in a best-of-three series. That weekend’s winner advances to the College World Series.
Starkville is paired with the Lafayette Regional. Lafayette plays Princeton in the first day with Arizona and Sam Houston State in the other game.
Mississippi State earned this first-ever national seeding by taking the SEC Championship. They are just the third-highest national seed from the SEC this year. Florida is #1 overall and Texas A&M is #4, while Louisiana State got the #8 spot. National seedings though aren’t based on league finishes as much as that combined with all-season RPI and schedule strength, with conference tournament results playing a minor factor.
State won its regular season series’ in both Gainesville and Baton Rouge, but was swept at home by the Aggies. Still the Bulldogs were able to earn their first SEC Championship since 1989 by winning nine of ten conference series, and a program-record 21 league games in the regular season.
The Bulldogs are 41-16-1 going into NCAA play. Southeast Missouri State is 39-19 after winning the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. These teams have played five common foes in 2016, oddly enough. And SEMO has a three-game sweep of an Eastern Kentucky team that beat the Bulldogs at home.
SEMO lost twice at Ole Miss, and split a pair of games with Missouri.
Bulldog fans know the Fullerton name well, though the programs have not met since 2001. That was also in NCAA play when the Titans hosted State in a super regional after the Bulldogs had won at the Columbus, Ohio, Regional. Fullerton eliminated MSU in two games.
These Titans are 35-21 and champions of the Big West Conference. They have won four College World Series titles, the most recent in 2004, and played in Omaha last season. State’s first-ever meeting with a Titans team came in Omaha too, back in 1979. That year the first Ron Polk-coached Bulldog team to make the College World series defeated favored Fullerton in the opening round.
There’s a twist to this guest, too. CFS pitching coach Jason Dietrich was interviewed last fall for the newly-opened job at State, which ultimately went to Wes Johnson.
Louisiana Tech is 40-18, and making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1987. The have split a pair of SEC games this year, beating Arkansas 3-2 in Fayetteville and losing 6-3 at LSU. Tech lost out in the CUSA tournament over the weekend to Rice.
This is the second time in Coach John Cohen’s tenure State has hosted a NCAA Regional (2013), and the fifth season of eight the Bulldogs have played in the national tournament.
This year’s field of 64 and seedings had mixed judgements on the SEC. Four conference clubs are national seeds with Florida the #1 overall, followed by #4 Texas A&M, #6 State, and #8 LSU. Three more league programs are hosting first-round regionals, at South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt. But those seven were all the SEC teams earning NCAA berths as Alabama and Kentucky were passed over.
NCAA post-season policy is to avoid pairing conference clubs during both regional rounds, particularly so national seeds.
Mississippi State enjoyed the most dramatic and complete turnaround in program history this spring. After finishing last in the 14-team SEC in 2015, these Bulldogs made history with the first true worst-to-first run in 2016. State won the outright SEC Championship by taking nine of ten league series and with a program-record 21 SEC victories.
This is the 13th season Dudy Noble Field has hosted a NCAA regional, all since 1979. Bulldog teams have won six home-field regionals and lost six.