'No-decision' against Ohio State cost the Dogs

[Premium article] On the premise Mississippi State came up one game shy, more precisely one win short of making the NCAA field, the suspended game with Ohio State early in the season that ended in a "no-decision" looms ever so large.

The Buckeyes have no qualm. They locked up a regional, even made it to the championship round at South Bend, Ind. They also fell a game short of advancing in a showdown with host Notre Dame, but the outcome was decided on the field.

It's a much different story for the Dogs, one of the last couple of teams passed over before the NCAA lineup was completed.

For those who don't remember the Ohio State standoff, Mississippi State's 34-24-1 overall record includes a tie in the annual NBC Classic. The game, called at the end of eight innings to accommodate the Buckeyes' travel itinerary, went down in the record books as a 6-6 deadlock in February.

Could the "no decision" be a "double whammy" that did immeasurable damage? It was definitely a game the Diamond Dogs could have won. But no one will ever know what impact finishing that game might have had with the selection committee.

It was the first career tie for Mississippi State coach Ron Polk who saw the game end on a double play - fly out, throw 'em out - from Ohio State center fielder Mike Rubin to catcher Joe Wilkins, nailing Matthew Maniscalco at the plate, carrying the winning run.

Mississippi State out-hit the Bucs 12-10 highlighted by back-to-back home runs by DH J.B. Tucker and third baseman Brent Lewis and two-hit performances by Chad Henry, Matthew Brinson, Steve Gendron, Casey Long and Lewis.

Four of the six aforementioned - Tucker, Lewis, Brinson and Gendron - will return for the 2003 campaign unless the Dogs lose one of the players in the annual June Draft.

Ohio State (38-20-1) lost to Notre Dame 9-6 in the championship game over the weekend at Frank Eck Stadium at South Bend. The Irish, who like Ohio State, have crossed paths with Mississippi State, squared off against the Dogs in one of the most celebrated games ever played at Dudy Noble Field, Polk-DeMent Stadium to launch the new millennium. "The classic game" featured the home-standing Bulldogs and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish of Paul Mainieri.

Mississippi State won the game 10-9 on a dramatic home run by Ty Martin to land a berth in the 2000 Super Regional at Clemson, S.C. The Dogs took on the No. 1 seed Tigers at Doug Kingsmore Stadium and its unique banked warning track in the outfield.

One of the keys to the Bulldogs "getting back on track" after missing the 2002 NCAA cut, according to Polk, is "keeping the signees", although MSU has some valuable veteran draftable players.

Another SEC team, the Arkansas Razorbacks, winners of the Wichita (Kansas) Regional, will make the trip to Clemson this year to contend with the Tigers of the ACC who enjoy a decided advantage on their home diamond.

A team selected over Mississippi State when it became time for the NCAA tribunal to raid the bubble ensemble, Arkansas outdueled Oklahoma (8-5), Oral Roberts (7-6) and again turned back Oral Roberts 11-6 to advance. The Hogs raised their record to 34-26 with their three wins.

Mississippi State won its SEC series against Arkansas 2-2, thrashing the Hogs soundly, 17-4, in the series opener, while taking the rubber game 6-4. The Dogs outscored the Razorbacks 26-15 in the three games in Starkville.

So much for head-to-head competition. It took Arkansas (34-26) three more games to match the Bulldogs' win total minus a regional stage.

It would have been interesting to see how Polk's Diamond Dogs would have fared in a regional especially against some of the seeds. The guess is with highly-regarded frontline pitchers like Paul Maholm, Tanner Brock and Chris Young on the mound, their chances would have been at least 50-50.

MSU's best showing against a team that apparently became more attractive to NCAA Selection committee Chairman Wally Groff, than the Maroon & White, was Georgia which did better in the Atlanta Regional than in the annual SEC Tournament.

In head-to-head combat with Georgia (31-29), Mississippi State took 3-of-4, including a 10-3 triumph in the SEC tournament at Hoover, Ala. Georgia's RPI may have been better than MSU's, but no statistic is more revealing than head-to-head competition.

Mississippi State broke even against LSU (1-1) which defended its home turf well under first-year coach Smoke Laval to advance to a Super Regional for the fourth straight year since the new format was adopted. The Tigers will play at Rice with the winner of the best-of-three advancing to the College World Series.

SEC newcomer South Carolina also advances, following a 3-1 elimination-game win over North Carolina at Sarge Frye Field in Columbia, S.C. The Gamecocks took 2-of-3 from MSU during the regular season.

SEC Western Division champ Alabama, despite being one of the favorites to host a Super Regional, was upset by Florida Atlantic at Tuscaloosa, Ala., where the Tide was almost unbeatable. Southeast Missouri State, coached by former MSU assistant Mark Hogan, upset national No. 3 seeded Alabama 7-4 in the opening round and the Tide, although fighting back, never fully recovered.

Former Mississippi State player and assistant coach Tim Parenton, head coach at Samford, faced Florida Atlantic during the regular season and said frankly he was not surprised that "Florida Atlantic was able to play so well."

Florida Atlantic, given little chance at surviving in the Tuscaloosa Regional, now takes on Georgia Tech which ousted Georgia 8-7.

Auburn (34-26), with the same number of wins but two more losses than MSU, won its series with the Dogs 2-1. However, the Tigers dropped two straight in the SEC Tournament and two straight at Tuscaloosa, not a favorite campground for the War Eagles.

Defending National Champion Miami outlasted Pat McMahon's high-octane Florida club at the Gainesville Regional. The Hurricanes sent the Gators to the loser's bracket with a 7-2 triumph. However, Florida rallied for a 11-10 win in 10 innings before dropping the deciding game 8-7. Miami now travels to South Carolina.

One of the big surprises was Richmond's upset of top-seeded Wake Forest at Winston Salem, N.C. Wake edged the Spiders 5-4 in 10 innings before being ousted by Richmond 7-5. The Spiders now converge on Lincoln, Neb., a stones throw from Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, the same destination for 16 hopefuls.

In other Super Regionals, Notre Dame visits Dick Howser Stadium at Tallahassee for a showdown with highly-touted Florida State, while Houston plays at Texas. Southern California, coming up soon on Mississippi State's schedule, visits Sunken Diamond at Stanford, Calif., where MSU has also played in the postseason.

Mississippi State slugged it out with Cal State Northridge (20-19 football-score setback) in the 1996 NCAA West Regional at Sunken Diamond in Polk's first tour of duty with the Dogs.

But now it's time to look to the future and Polk and the Diamond Dogs expect to do just that during the off season.

Don Foster, a 31-year veteran newspaper writer, is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News. He will be writing regular feature articles for Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports and Mississippi High School sports on the internet.

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