Former Houston standout Luke Hancock has started a dozen games for Mississippi State as a true freshman. 

STARKVILLE Mississippi State hasn’t hosted an NCAA Regional since 2016, when Jake Mangum, Cole Gordon, Keegan James, Kale Breaux, Ethan Small and Trysten Barlow were all freshmen.

Most of those players are expected to play a much bigger role this year as the top-seeded Bulldogs begin the Starkville Regional, hosting No. 4 seed Southern University today at noon on the SEC Network.

“The fans deserve it,” Mangum said. “We built this (stadium) for this reason. I think it’s going to shine this weekend. I think we’re going to show up, be loud and it’s going to be about Mississippi State baseball for three days.”

It marks the 14th time that Mississippi State has hosted a regional and the 38th time the Diamond Dogs have reached a regional. Last year, MSU was down to its final strike in the Tallahassee Regional before Elijah MacNamee belted a walk-off home run against Florida State, which eventually propelled the Bulldogs into a semifinal finish at the College World Series.

“You come to Mississippi State for the big stage,” Mangum said. “You come here to play postseason baseball and that chance to get to Omaha. You can’t really compare anything to last year. Last year is over. Last year was a very, very crazy ride. This year has gone a lot smoother and we plan to keep it that way.”

MSU (46-13) hopes to have MacNamee back in the lineup today after being out since May 12 with a cracked bone in his left foot.

“He’s had a really good week,” said MSU coach Chris Lemonis. “He’s been swinging since Sunday and running around. He ran full speed (on Thursday) so he’s really close. I think he’s got a shot to play but I don’t know in what capacity.”

Mississippi State has only met Southern once on the diamond but it came last season while Dudy Noble Field was still under construction. The Bulldogs were clinging to a 1-0 lead before scoring four runs in the bottom of the eighth for a 5-0 victory.

“When we were here last year, the stadium wasn’t completed and there was limited seating,” said Southern coach Kerrick Jackson. “This is going to be a whole different beast for us. We played at LSU in the midweek and there was five, maybe six thousand people but it wasn’t 13,000. That part is going to be our toughest opponent, being able to get in this environment and stay between the lines.”

Southern (32-22) enters the postseason on a six-game winning streak having won the SWAC Tournament title and also own an SEC win over LSU 7-2 last month.

Southern is hitting .313 as a team with 136 steals, both of which ranks the Jaguars in the top seven nationally.

“Top to bottom, almost everybody hits and they put a lot of pressure on you,” Lemonis said. “You’re going to have to defend the steal, defend the bunt, play good defense and pound the strike zone against them.”

MSU will start freshman right-hander JT Ginn (8-4, 3.49 ERA) on the mound today while the Jaguars counter with junior southpaw Jerome Bohannon II (3-5, 6.63). Twitter: @loganlowery

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