However, in the bigger picture only once has State lost a first-round game and still won the Regional. That was in 1979 at Dudy Noble Field when the Dogs lost to New Orleans in the opener then won four-straight. The other three times a first-round loss was MSU's doom, in 1978, 1984, and 2004.
BREAKOUT: This is Elon's second-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and by beating the Bulldogs 5-4 the Phoenix scored their first post-season victory. State is now 56-39 in NCAA Regional action.
SICK CALL: Outfielder Andy Rice did not play Friday, as feared by State's coaches after the sophomore became ill Wednesday and missed Thursday's practice at Doug Kingsmore Field. Rice was able to come to the game but there was never a chance of him seeing action, Polk said. "I wasn't going to swing him. He should be alright tomorrow."
Mitch Moreland started in rightfield and went 1-for-4 with a double in the second inning.
BEST-LAID PLANS, or THAT'S BASEBALL: Mississippi State stuck with their Thursday plans of starting Edward Easley at catcher and Michael Rutledge third base. And in a classic case of ‘that's baseball' the decision both worked…and failed.
"Easley is the best thrower behind the plate and they do run," Polk said. Elon had four runners with double-digit steals in the regular season and two, the numbers-one and –seven batters, with 20 or 21. The starting lineup was 77-of-100 in steal attempts. So going with the best-throwing backstop was the textbook way to play. As it turned out Elon only stole twice, both times successfully and in the decisive eighth inning.
The second theft meant nothing; the first, by Ryan Addison, was part of setting up the winning score. He took second with one out in the eighth frame, and did it off substitute catcher Joseph McCaskill whose throw hooked to the wrong side of the sack and probably wasn't in time anyway. A fly ball put the runner on third base with two outs and a base hit scored him for Elon's fifth and winning run.
Easley would have had a better shot at the runner, though that was far from sure as Addison is now 22-of-22 for the season stealing. But by then Easley was on third base as starter Rutledge had committed two errors. The first was a rushed throw in the second inning with bases loaded. The lead man would have come in anyway but the following runner came home on the errant throw. Also, it caromed off Easley into the MSU dugout so two more runners were moved into scoring position, and did score.
Rutledge also mishandled a grounder right to him in the fourth inning. Nobody scored off that gaffe, and in the top of the fifth Rutledge led off with a base hit and ultimately scored. But when the Dog defense came back out in the bottom of the frame Easley was at third, McCaskill catching.
"We wanted to stay with Ed (catching)," Polk said, "but defensively it was probably our best thing to do right then."
LOOKING AHEAD: In light of the defensive issues Friday, Polk was unable to say after the game what lineup he will go with Saturday. The decisions won't come quickly this evening as the Clemson-UNC Asheville game was halted in the middle of the first inning by lightning and looked unlikely to resume before 10:00 at the earliest. As of 9:00 the game management could not even say if the game would resume or be played out Saturday.
So the MSU staff will have to wait that much longer to see who they are facing in the elimination game, as well as who is likely to be thrown at them. But Polk made it clear, with State in a must-win situation, the starting pitcher will be Justin Pigott. "It makes no difference," he said of either potential matchup.
BERKERY RECOGNIZED: Senior shortstop Thomas Berkery, the SEC's regular-season batting champion, was on the All-America teams list released Friday by Louisville Slugger/TPX. The three teams were selected by Collegiate Baseball Magazine.
Berkery was on the All-America second team, and the only shortstop among the 12 position players and nine pitchers on that unit. Also on the second team was Clemson pitcher Josh Cribb, one of two Tigers voted All-America. First baseman Andy D'Allessio was on the third team. No players from Elon or North Carolina-Asheville made the lists.
The SEC has three first-teammers in Alabama pitcher Wade LeBlanc, Arkansas pitcher Nick Schmidt, and Kentucky first baseman Ryan Strieby. Tennessee catcher J.C. Arencibia and Alabama outfielder Emeel Salem joined Berkery on the second team. No SEC players were on the third team. The only other player from a Mississippi team on the list was third-team shortstop Joaquin Rodriguez of Jackson State.
WHATEVER IT TAKES: Berkery did not help his SEC-leading batting average of .393 by going 1-of-4 against Elon. And he had to hustle for his only base hit of the day, laying down a bunt in the top of the fifth for an infield single.
Post-season stats are counted in the all-year totals for determining final averages. Berkery has a six-game streak going but has also gone 2-of-10 in his last two games.
REA AWAITS DRAFT: The two-day, 50-round June Major League draft begins next Tuesday, and second baseman Jeffrey Rea is the Diamond Dog underclassman most likely to receive a phone call from a professional franchise. Exactly how likely is the question for both the third-year junior and State's staff. Last week Coach Ron Polk said he is definitely concerned Rea will have the opportunity to leave MSU a year early.
For his part, "I haven't really thought a whole lot about it," Rea said. But clearly he has thought about it enough that, judging both the words and his non-verbal cues, given a fair chance Rea would like to turn pro now. Still he isn't committing to any course of action while the process plays out.
"The scouts have had their meetings the last few days and have been contacting me, just wanting to see where I stand. Hey, if it's right yeah, I want to do it. But I can also come back to a great University, get one year closer to my degree, and go from there.
"The draft is something that's in your hands and out of your hands. You can play hard as you want to, and a guy may see you when you go 5-for-5 with two jacks and steal some bags. Or you may go 0-for-5 with three Ks. A lot of it is in your hands and a lot of it is out. But I have a good feel for it."
Rea hit .360 for the regular season, by far the best average of his three college seasons. He batted .324 as a freshman and .305 last spring. Both years the Nettleton native was hampered by problems with a wrist and hamstring. This time around he's stayed healthy and it has shown in the stats. "It's been great!"
Great enough to earn a solid draft selection next week? Rea says those area scouts aren't able to tell him a whole lot about where he stands with the various clubs. "But they do have a good feel for me, I believe.
"They look for little things, but the main thing is when you talk to them you tell them you want to play and that's one of your goals in life. It is one of my goals. But at the same time I can't be dumb about it, and if I come back here and play my senior years maybe I'll break some records."
STOPPED THIEF? If there's a record Rea would most like to break—make that, just be permitted a chance to try breaking—it would be the MSU mark of 38 stolen bases in a season, by Dan Van Cleve in 1985. He knows the career record of 79 (Mike Kelly 1976-79) is out of reach. But Rea also knows that he could have made a ‘run' at that one if allowed more opportunities through his tenure.
"I wish I could steal some more!" he said. "I think I stole more my freshman year than I did this year." Not exactly; Rea was 11-of-19 as a rookie in 2004, and he finished this regular season 12-of-14. He was 5-of-7 as a little-run sophomore, though he admits his hamstring history was part of the reason Polk reined in the team's leadoff man and best threat to swipe a bag. This year he's been healthy, and his efficiency obvious.
"Yeah, I thought by my third year I might run a little bit, Coach would give me the green light," Rea said. "But he hasn't yet. Maybe if I come back that would be my present!" It certainly would seem a good negotiating tool to use with the coach pending next week's draft.
"But I don't second-guess him for one bit," Rea said. "He's been in the league 30, 40 years, whatever. He knows exactly what he's doing." Besides, he adds, if the first game back Polk were to flash the ‘go' sign Rea says he'd probably have to signal back for confirmation. "I might get picked off!"
SHOW TIME: During pregame infield, the stadium jumbotron showed season highlights provided by the participating programs while also playing their fight songs…over and over and over. But the in-game information provided was first-class with eleven season-stats for each player plus his line for that game.