The all-time series still stands in State's favor 231-186-5, but Ole Miss has won 13 of the last 18 meetings in 2004-07.
WE'RE BAAAACK…: Mississippi State has played in 26 of the 31 various convolutions of the SEC Tournament. But the Diamond Dogs missed two of the last three meets, not qualifying for Hoover in 2004 and '06. In between, though, State won the 2005 event. It was MSU's sixth SEC Tourney championship, outright or shared, along with 1979, '85, '87, '90 (along with LSU), and 2001. In '79, '85 and ‘87 winning also brought SEC Championships, as the league used the tournament to determine the official title until 1989. Ironically, that championship won over the course of the regular season only was also the last SEC crown earned by Mississippi State.
Only once has Mississippi State failed to win at least one game in a SEC Tournament. In 2000, under Coach Pat McMahon, the Bulldogs lost to Alabama and were eliminated by Georgia…then coached by Ron Polk.
WE'RE BAAAACK PT.2: When they lined up for the first pitch Thursday, only three of the Dogs had been starters the last time State played at Hoover. And only C Edward Easley was in the same defensive position; in 2005 Jeffrey Rea had started at second base, where this time he opened with his very first career start as rightfielder. Brian LaNinfa was the DH that game and reprised the role this time, too.
Both LF Joseph McCaskill and 1B Mitch Moreland played in that tournament.
HOORAY FOR J.REA: Jeffrey Rea's two hits gave him 325 in 228 career games with State. The senior is third on the all-time Bulldog hit list, trailing only Richard Lee's 328 and Travis Chapman's 327. Rea, the 19th player in SEC history to collect 300 career hits, ranks 6th on the all-time league chart now. Chapman is tied for fourth and Lee has third to his own. But the SEC record of 352 by Eddy Furniss is out of reach, though a long post-season run would give Rea a chance to catch #2 Jay Waggoner's 341.
Though it was his first time ever to start in rightfield—he'd practiced for left last fall and before the season and has seen some duty there—Rea handled the new job with aplomb, fielding both fly balls and all hits knocked his way. He didn't get a lot of intense coaching, either. "All they told me was just go catch it!" he said.
Rea might catch it from the managers. Despite playing in the outfield, he finished the game with a white uniform almost entirely covered in rust-colored dirt from a couple of dives into bags. "Who wants to scrub my uniform?" he mused.
BACK IN THE SWING: 2B Brandon Turner returned to the lineup after missing most of the last four weeks with a hamstring injured April 27 in Oxford. He went down swinging on three pitches in the initial at-bat but came back for a third inning single. It was Turner's first hit against a SEC pitcher since April 22 when he went 3-of-4 against LSU. His last hits of any sort were at Austin Peay as Turner was 2-of-4 on May 9.
Turner also walked in the fifth frame. And moving the regular shortstop to the four-hole worked out nicely as handled every ball hit or thrown his way. That included a leaping snare of a soft liner in the sixth to end the inning and strand a runner on third base, with Turner showing no problems moving on the hurt muscle.
GRADING OUT: The Diamond Dogs might have struggled down the regular-season stretch but they finished strong in the classroom, posting a collective spring GPA of 3.24. That is the highest squad grade average on record for MSU baseball. Seven Bulldogs—SS Jet Butler, C Wyn Diggs, C Edward Easley, OF Nick Hardy, P Drew Hollinghead (injured), P Jared Koon, and P Andy Wilson all posted perfect 4.00 averages this semester. P Jesse Carver, P John Lalor, IF Jason Nappi, P Justin Pigott, IF Michael Rutledge joined them on the Presidents Scholars list.
AND, DRESSING OUT: There were no surprises on the 25-man tournament roster. As planned Polk brought nine primary pitchers, which was truly ten with 1B Mitch Moreland able to close out games. He also brought the total of lefthanded arms to four along with Justin Pigott, Jesse Carver, and Tyler Whitney. The righthanded pitchers are Chad Crosswhite, Josh Johnson, John Lalor, Ricky Bowen, Greg Houston, an Aaron Weatherford.
The primary infielders are 1B/P Moreland, 1B/DH Brian LaNinfa, 1B/DH Jeff Flagg, 2B/SS Brandon Turner, SS Jet Butler, 3B Russ Sneed, 3B Connor Powers. Normally 2B Jeffrey Rea would be in this number but for game-one he became a rightfielder, joining CF Mark Goforth, RF Andy Rice, RF Cade Hoggard, LF Nick Hardy, and LF Joseph McCaskill. Backstops are Edward Easley, Wyn Diggs, and Ryan Duffy.
Nine of these dressing Dogs are freshmen and Butler, Houston, Powers, and Whitney were in high school last spring.
LOCAL FLAVOR: Only one Diamond Dog on the travel roster, RHP Ricky Bowen, gives an Alabama home address now. The Jasper native played at Sumiton Christian School. Of course RHP Aaron Weatherford is a product of Fairhope, Ala., High. But now he shows Crystal Springs, Miss., as his hometown.
Still one State player knows the neighborhood, as CF Mark Goforth played last season as a freshman at Birmingham Southern College. The Covington, Tenn., native transferred after BSC dropped from Division I and scholarship sports.
Goforth's running snare of a deep drive in the third inning was the defensive play of the evening, and produced a fluke double-play as the runner from first base had rounded second already and failed to touch the bag on his return.
Rea didn't see what the runner did wrong but guessed correctly. He did have a good view of Goforth's play though. "It was a great catch, I saw his jump and was like ‘he's going to catch it'." But, Rea added, State should have caught some fire off that play and taken it to the plate. They didn't, leaving two runners stranded in scoring positions. "That was some momentum we should have took and run with."