"It is home to me and so it is special," said Pat McMahon. "I don't relish the fact of having to compete (against MSU), because I would rather be coming home to see folks and friendships. You know how important people are to me and I can't express that enough."
Coach Polk also commented on Coach McMahon and his assistant, former MSU player John Cohen, coming back to MSU this weekend.
"I'm sure he is looking forward to coming back. John Cohen, his assistant coach, is also returning. I'm sure they will have the same emotions that I had when I played Georgia a few weeks ago and the same emotions I had when I played Mississippi State in the tournament. Once the game starts, you forget about who you are playing."
The MSU players are also excited about the prospect of seeing their former coach again.
"It is going to be exciting to have him come back," said Tanner Brock. "I'm sure before the game starts, we will visit."
"It is going to be a unique experience," said Matthew Brinson."It is going to be kind of weird to look over there and see him in a Florida Gator uniform. I know when I watched that Miami series and saw him in a Florida Gator's uniform, it looked a little out of place."
Even though it will be nice to see him, the players will not let that affect them when they walk between the lines. "Once the game starts, it is like playing any other team; you don't think about that," said Brock. Brinson took it a step further. " For those three games he is our enemy."
First pitch Friday is set for 6:37 p.m., with the game televised by the Florida-based Sunshine Network. The series continues with games Saturday (3 p.m.) and Sunday (1:37 p.m. Also televised by the Sunshine Network).
A pair of left-handers are expected to draw starts in Friday's series-opener sophomore Paul Maholm (8-1, 3.39) for State and senior Jimmy Ramshaw (4-3, 4.39) for the Gators. Maholm is third in the league in wins, including an SEC-best six in conference competition. Ramshaw leads the Gator pitching staff with 60 strikeouts.
"I watched (Florida) on tv when they played Miami. They have good pitchers in Keith Ramsey and Alex Hart," said Brinson. "I think both of them have been SEC Pitcher of the Week at least once. You know they have good pitching and they were hitting over .400 for a long time. It is going to be a real challenge for us."
Sophomore right-fielder Steve Gendron, one of five Floridians on the Mississippi State club, enters the weekend with a team-best .360 batting average. Another MSU sophomore, first baseman Matthew Brinson (.341), is riding a career-best eight-game hitting streak and leads the Bulldogs in both home runs (12) and RBI (58).
"When I hit the ball good at Auburn, it was a home run, when I didn't it was a little judy," said Brinson when talking about his current hitting streak. "The only hits I got at Auburn were home runs. Same thing with Vanderbilt, except I got a couple of pretty good hits to go along with the home runs."
Florida opens the series with an SEC-leading .365 team batting average. Senior shortstop Mark Kiger paces the high-powered Gator offense with an SEC-leading .424 batting average. Senior first baseman Ryan Shealy contributes a hefty portion of the Florida power this spring. He opened the week atop the conference charts in both home runs (19) and RBI (60).
"They are a solid team that swings the bats well," said Brock. "It is going to be a battle."
Both teams are in the thick of divisional races and jockeying for berths and seedings in the upcoming SEC Baseball Tournament May 22-26 in Hoover, Ala. With three weekends of league play remaining, Mississippi State trails SEC Western Division and conference overall leader Alabama (39-7, 16-5 SEC) by 4-1/2 games, while Florida trails South Carolina (35-10, 14-6 SEC) by 1-1/2 games in the SEC Eastern Division.
"It is as much a key as last weekend's series was to us," said MSU shortstop Matthew Maniscalco. "We want to come out and try to win at least two out of three. It is big for us because we don't need to come out and lose this series. If we do, then we are going to make it pretty tough on ourselves. We have three series left and they are all against really good teams. We need to come out Friday night and set the tone."
The teams with the top eight SEC winning percentages advance to this year's double-elimination tournament at the Hoover Met, with the divisional champions earning top seeding in their respective tournament brackets.
Florida is the first of three top 10-ranked SEC opponents on the Bulldogs' schedule in the final three weekends of the 10-weekend conference season. MSU visits league-leading and third-ranked Alabama next weekend (May 10-12) before wrapping up league competition against instate SEC rival Mississippi (May 17-19).
"I think not just this weekend but the stretch we have left is going to be tough for us," said Brock about the three remaining series. "All are high ranked opponents. We are really going to have bear down and play well the rest of the way."
MSU-FLORIDA GAME TIMES
Friday - 6:37 p.m. (Sunshine Network)
Saturday - 3 p.m.
Sunday - 1:37 p.m. (Sunshine Network)
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.