Jay Miller Talks About The Upcoming Regional

Mississippi State head softball coach Jay Miller talks about his team's upcoming appearance in this weekend's NCAA Regional which will be held on the campus of Florida State.

Were you surprised that your team was selected to play in an NCAA Regional?
"On one hand I was surprised because we obviously didn't qualify for the SEC Tournament and our record wasn't that strong. But we were in the top 40, 39th in the RPI and we had a strength of schedule that was 13th in the nation. We had a lot of good wins. And knowing how the NCAA Selection Committee works, I knew that's where they put the weight (of their selection). They put in who did you play, who did you beat and we didn't have many bad losses at all. We had no losses against teams that were 150 or more. We only had two that were 100 or more. We played over 30 games against teams that were top 50 in the RPI.

"When you compare teams on the bubble we would have compare very favorably within that group. So, I thought we were in pretty good shape. The big question was how deep would they go (in the SEC). But as it turned out, we weren't even on the bubble because we were picked much earlier than the bubble teams. As it turned out, we were a three-seed."

You are also going into the NCAA Regional with a four-game winning streak, something that should give your team some confidence.
"That is very unusual because most teams going into postseason play have lost in the conference tournament. You don't find many teams with a winning streak. And we are playing good ball right now. We are playing as well as we have played all year. And I think we have a great region that we are going to."

Part of the reason that you are playing well is due to your freshman pitcher Lindsey Dunlap. In seven of her last nine SEC starts she had a 1.58 earned run average.
"She really has played well (of late). And it's tough to step into the SEC and win as a freshman. It takes some growing up. She's had some rough outings. But she has also pitched very well for us. I think she is at that point where she could step up and carry us, and step up and dominate at a regional. And that is what we are hoping will happen this weekend."

Dunlap had to step up early in her career due to you not having Misty Flesher available, a pitcher who was 20-10 last season, due to a season-long injury. Do you think what could have been if you had had both of them this season?
"Now, we will have them together for three years. And both will be a little more mature. We are looking forward to next year because we will be a lot stronger on the mound. But it was frustrating not having her this year because I think she would have made a difference in our record this year. Instead of winning 28 games we win 40."

And Misty wasn't the only pitcher hurt. Elizabeth Woolven was also hurt. That left you with two pitchers - Dunlap and Kelsey Nurnberg. That had to be tough.
"Yeah, it was tough because you are playing in the top conference in the country. We started out the season against Florida, Alabama, Arkansas and LSU. Those were some of the top teams in the nation. And when we played them we were pretty banged up. We took our lumps early but give the kids credit - they could have gotten down and given up but they didn't. They kept fighting and coming back. And it's nice to see them rewarded for that with an NCAA bid."

You had other players hurt other than Misty and Elizabeth didn't you? And you had a very small roster this year.
"Yeah, going in we had 16 players on the roster. And Misty was out as well as Elizabeth, our second pitcher. She was, basically, out all year. Our starting shortstop, Alli Heon, sort of sprained her wrist and hasn't recovered from that in the last eight weeks. Our backup shortstop, Jessie Spain, was out for about five weeks with a concussion, although she's playing now. We were having to shuffle the lineup right around the first month of the SEC competition."

The pitching was fairly decent, the defense was outstanding but the hitting wasn't that strong in SEC play.
"Defensively, we played very well. I was very pleased with our defense all year. This is the best fielding team that we have ever had here. Offensively, we were mainly starting freshmen and sophomores (seven total) and when they got into SEC play they struggled early. (Freshman) Ka'ili (Smith) is a good example. She started out slow but she has really been an outstanding hitter for us since then."

Did Ka'ili surprise you with her play?
"We knew she had that potential coming in. It was just a matter of how quickly she made the adjustments. We had some other freshmen that has the same kind of potential but they didn't make the adjustments as well as Ka'ili did. Hitting is all about making adjustments."

What are your thoughts about the upcoming regional at Florida State?
"We are excited to go to Tallahassee. We played in Florida State's tournament back in February and won the tournament and beat Florida State. We have some good past history there. We've played Cal the last couple of years and run-ruled them two years ago and beat them out at Palm Springs last year. So, we have two wins against Cal under our belt with these kids on our team. That's good for us. We don't know much about Oklahoma State. But I think this is a regional that we can have some success in if we play well.

"And it's nice to not be going to Arizona or Arizona State again. The last couple of years we went to the national champions home for regionals."

Who will the starting pitcher be for the first game?
"I haven't decided that yet. We are still evaluating Cal. We'll get some film on them and take a look at their hitters to see who would be most effective against them. Whomever starts, the other will be in relief if the starter gets in trouble."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

Gene's Page Top Stories