*Mississippi State has never faced Stetson nor Bethune-Cookman in baseball, in- or post-season. MSU is a bit more familiar with Florida State, though the schools have not met since 1992. That was in Minneapolis at the Oscar Meyer Classic, a season-opening event for four teams in the Metrodome. The Seminoles won 5-1 and are 7-4 against State all-time.
Most of the meetings have come in end-of-season tourney play, five times in the old NCAA District Playoff system and all at Gastonia, N.C. In 1965 State beat the Seminoles in the first round and lost in an elimination game. In 1966 it was the same story, a win and a loss to end the event. And in 1970 State played FSU for the District III title and lost 5-4.
But the three meetings most-recalled by Bulldog fans were in 1990 at Dudy Noble Field in the South II Regional. Host State rallied on Burke Masters' eighth-inning grand slam to win 11-8 in the winner's bracket, before FSU came back through the loser's round and won 11-9 to set up a rubber match for the right to go to Omaha. The Bulldogs eked out a nailbiter 4-3.
*It doesn't show on the records, but these State universities did play one other series. In 1983, when there was a lengthy break between conference tournaments and regionals, Coach Ron Polk filled the down-time by playing a three-game exhibition set in Tallahassee. The home team won the first two games 10-2 and 13-3, before State salvaged a 13-7 victory. Then-D.B. editor Joe Dier's post-trip column referred to "shady umpiring" and Coach Ron Polk must have agreed as he was ejected in the third game.
*A decade later and back again in Tallahassee, Polk could easily have been booted again…if the game hadn't ended in one controversial call, or non-call depending on viewpoint. But this one was worse because this game counted. "We lost a heartbreaker there, I'm not even sure what year," Polk said, needing the current D.B. editor to remind him it was in 1993 in Regional play at Howser Field.
State and Long Beach State were deadlocked 1-1 into the ninth inning of an elimination game. Jay Powell had got past a first-inning home run and shut LBS out the rest of the way, but in the bottom of the ninth had loaded bases and a 2-2 count. Powell might have missed on the next pitch; but his 3-2 fastball was right down the chute and ump Randy Christal, who still calls NCAA tourneys, lurched back, flexed the right shoulder…and froze. He didn't even call ball-four but the lead Bronco jogged across the plate for the game-winner. Powell started towards the plate but was stopped as the crew left the field.
"I was mad," Powell told D.B. last fall at the Alumni Game, discussing the mutual memory. "He ended my college career!" Happily Powell went on to win many professional games, including a game-seven for the Florida Marlins in the World Series.
*That 1993 Regional was also noteworthy in a negative way. It was the first time a Polk team failed to win a game in any sort of conference or NCAA tournament. "I've only been 0-2 three times," Polk said today. That includes going two-and-through last week at the SEC Tournament; and in 2001 with Georgia in the College World Series which really wouldn't seem to count.
*Senior Jeffrey Rea had three base hits in State's two Hoover appearances, giving him 326 for his Bulldog career. That leaves Rea one shy of tying Travis Chapman (1997-2000) for second on MSU's career hits list, and two short of the record 328 by Richard Lee (1995-98). Rea has been dealing with the hit-parade talk for weeks and doesn't make the record his top goal. "The focus now is to win," he said, "win that first game and it's two more guaranteed (games). Three hits, it may take one game, it may take ten games."
Of course to play ten more games would mean coming through the loser's bracket this weekend, playing all three in a successful super Regional next weekend, and making a run in the College World Series. Rea agrees he could handle that. "We'll see how it happens," he grinned.
*The programs haven't met for years, or at all in two cases, but Polk is familiar with a couple of his peers this week. "(FSU Coach) Mike Martin is one of my closest friends in college baseball. And Stetson is coached by Pete Dunn who was a graduate assistant with me at Georgia Southern in I think 1972. He was on the USA Baseball staff with me in 1998. So he's a very good friend."
But, Polk admitted, "I don't know anything about Bethune-Cookman."
*Mississippi State played 22 games against ten teams selected to this year's NCAA Tournament field. The Bulldogs were 12-10 in these contests. Broken down by opponent, State was: 2-0 against Troy, 0-1 against Michigan, 1-0 against Baylor, 2-0 against Memphis, 1-2 against South Carolina, 2-1 against Arkansas, 2-3 against Mississippi, 2-0 against Mississippi Southern, 0-2 against Austin Peay, and 0-1 against Vanderbilt.
This is Mississippi State's fourth-straight season to be sent on the road for first-round NCAA Tournament play, the longest such streak in program history. Until this stretch began in 2004, State had never been assigned road-Regionals more than in two consecutive years. The '04 and '06 Bulldog teams were just happy to get NCAA bids after failing to make the SEC Tournament each time; and the '05 team that won the SECT was too excited to care about going on the road.
This 2007 team is different, still hurt that they let the chance to stay home slip through their gloves or past their bats. "A couple of inches here or there, we get a couple of more wins and we're hosting," senior 1B/DH Brian LaNinfa said. "But we'll just go out and play our game."
*Not only is State traveling to the Regional again, but for the fourth-straight year the SEC Dogs have been assigned to play at a ACC field. In 2004 it was at Georgia Tech; in '05 Miami; and last year at Clemson. State failed to get out of those yards victorious, and while Tech and MSU did not meet the Dogs lost twice to Miami and once to Clemson, both times being eliminated.
"The ACC has kind of got us the last couple of years so it's time for us to step up," junior C Edward Easley said.
*Mississippi State is making a 24th appearance in a Regional since the NCAA went to this format in 1975. Between 1949 and '71 six Bulldog teams played in the preceding district system. State is 58-40 in all Regional play, including two appearances in the ‘super' regionals since those were instituted in 1999.
*State has won eight first-round Regionals, in 1979, '81, '85, '90, '97, '98, 2000, and '01. Those first six championships advanced the Dogs to the College World Series. In the super regionals, at Fullerton in 2000 and at Clemson in '01, the Dogs went 0-2 each time. State has yet to host a super regional round.
In fact, Dudy Noble Field has not hosted any post-season play since 2003, and only twice in the past decade. Since 1979, the first time a Regional was sited in Starkville, the longest stretch State has gone without hosting is four seasons, three times; 1980-83, 1993-96, and now 2004-07.
*Only twice has State won a road Regional, in 1981 at Clemson and '98 at Texas A&M. That latter team was the last Bulldog squad to advance to Omaha.