Mississippi State is 1-1 in the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament heading into tonight's elimination game against LSU. The Bulldogs won a 17-inning marathon match with the rival Tigers that ended just past 3 AM local time. LSU rallied back to beat Auburn in the 9th inning on Thursday, while the Diamond Dawgs lost to Vanderbilt 1-0.
The bigger lesson learned in Hoover is that Mississippi State is capable of competing with and defeating the national elite. More to the point, the Bulldogs are part of the national elite.
Coach John Cohen was hired to return Mississippi State baseball to national prominence. The former Bulldog outfielder did his part to right the ship taking Mississippi State to the national championship final against UCLA in 2013 and winning an SEC championship in 2016. As Cohen said when he was hired, "We have been to Omaha and just going ain't enough anymore."
On Monday, Mississippi State is expected to be named a top eight national seed in the NCAA tournament that begins next weekend. Should the projections hold, the Bulldogs will be seeded in the top eight for just the second time in program history.
The bottom line is that there is no time like the present for Mississippi State to finally cash in and win the Bulldogs' first national title. State has strong front line pitching and enough capable relievers to keep even the most potent offenses off balance.
The Bulldog offense has been among the SEC's best throughout the season, despite the lack of timely hits in Hoover this week. At some point, all hitters slump, but the chance to play the first two rounds of the tournament in the friendly confines of Dudy Noble Field should only help matters.
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No matter what happens the rest of the week at the SEC tournament, the Bulldogs have shown themselves capable of elite play and competing with programs considered bona fide national title contenders. The question for Mississippi State fans for years has always been when, but perhaps it's time to ask. "Why not now?"
While the Bulldogs are recruiting at a high level, the current roster has the talent capable of winning the whole shooting match. Ethan Small is the SEC pitcher of the year and held Vanderbilt to just one run that scored on a bit of a fluke hit.
JT Ginn is the SEC freshman of the year and is capable of providing a potent second punch for the Mississippi State pitching staff. Peyton Plumlee has shown that he is more than ready to be the next man up when it is time to play game three.
It's always been about next year, but what if next year is finally here for Mississippi State?