Denver McQuary (Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page)

State Owns 19-18 Lead in Extra-Game Series; Both Clubs Starting Freshmen

We interrupt this SEC season for an annual intrastate rivalry.

Mississippi State and Ole Miss get together for the 2017 edition of the Governor’s Cup, with a 6:30 first pitch at Trustmark Park. This midweek meeting will appear on the SEC Network.

The year ‘extra’ game is always a headline event within Mississippi. This one draws some extra attention with Mississippi State’s surge to the top of the SEC standings and now into the top-ten rankings by a couple of the national polls. The Bulldogs (28-14, 13-5 SEC) are as high as seventh and no lower than 13th in any of the various polls.

Polls of course matter next-to-nothing in baseball other than for pride points. Which, Andy Cannizaro says, does count. “I’m glad they’re getting national attention,” the first-year Bulldog coach said Monday.

“There’s a lot of coaches that don’t pay attention to polls. I bring it up to our players all the time where they’re sitting in the polls. Because it’s a great recognition.”

It certainly is a great change of stature from where this club stood back in early March. They have gone from unranked at all to top-ten by virtue of winning five-straight SEC series. Which, of more ultimate matter, has also carried them to first place in the conference standings.

It’s a narrow lead naturally after just six weeks. Mississippi State is a half-game up on the trio of Arkansas, Auburn, and Kentucky. The Razorbacks of course have the direct tie-break, having swept State to open SEC season. That seems forever-ago now as the Dogs have won 13 of 15 league games since.

Three of those wins came at Ole Miss expense. The Bulldogs used their weekend in Oxford to score a sweep, State’s first in the rivalry at any address since 2003. Now they can go for a larger-season sweep which hasn’t been done by a Dog team since 1997, back when the fourth game was played in a different stadium and under a different name.

The old Mayor’s Trophy moved to Pearl’s Trustmark Park in 2007. In the ten meetings at the AA-facility of the Mississippi Braves, it is State holding a 6-4 advantage.

This extra game, which does not count in SEC standings, began in 1980. It was evenly-split until last year when John Cohen’s last team won 2-0 giving State a 19-18 edge.

There is more than bragging rights and pride points at stake though. Both the Bulldogs and Rebels (25-15) are playing for returns to the NCAA Tournament. Just playing each other, and on a neutral field, will benefit both in the ratings power index calculations as well; and neither will suffer in the RPI by a loss.

But a win will be a real bonus towards NCAA seeding. And for Mississippi State, for possible siting of another Regional at Dudy Noble Field. The Bulldogs are hanging around that unofficial cut-line for a number-one seeding these days which would bring host privileges. State actually lost some RPI ground in sweeping SEC cellar-dweller Alabama, showing just how much damage would have been done had the Dogs not gritted out three tough wins including an epic 13-inning contest of nearly six hours to complete the sweep.

Taking a fourth win over a quality Rebel club would make up all that ground and more. It would certainly also maintain momentum for a team which has won eight of its last ten games going into a showdown series with Auburn beginning Friday.

Ole Miss has more to gain tonight. Their cut-line of concern is a NCAA at-large bid. Were the field picked today the Rebels almost certainly would be in, but margins are fine and much season remains ahead. At the same time Ole Miss has to calculate carefully how much pitching to invest in this non-conference contest. Their road series with Arkansas begins Thursday evening, in Fayetteville.

Both teams have tabbed a freshman righthander to start this one. State is putting Denver McQuary (0-1, 4.50) on the Pearl mound though Cannizaro has made clear the kid isn’t expected to go any great distance. This game may be the chance to get RHP Graham Ashcraft some innings to knock off rust after an injury absence ahead of the Auburn series.

Greer Holston (2-2, 3.20) will throw the first pitch as Ole Miss is the home team this year.

Tonight is likely the last chance to watch SEC offensive leader Brent Rooker at Pearl, unless he returns soon with a professional club. The junior first baseman leads the SEC in nine categories this week, though his batting average has dropped an even 50 points in the last two weeks to .400. He still tops the league in homers (16) and RBI (58) meaning he is bidding for the first SEC triple-crown since 1984.


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