STARKVILLE • Mississippi State is two wins away from making a return trip to the College World Series for the second-consecutive year.
Standing in the way is a Stanford team that has been neck-and-neck with the Bulldogs in the rankings throughout the season. The Cardinal are currently ranked No. 4 in the D1Baseball.com top 25, one spot behind MSU.
“Every time I’ve looked up all year I felt like we were in the top five and so were they,” said MSU coach Chris Lemonis. “So it’s a really good team – a West Coast team with three really good starters and a good bullpen. Lineup-wise for them, it’s a lot of power. We’re going to have to do a great job of making pitches.
“It’s just like Mississippi State, except it’s on the other coast. They’re one of the top programs in college baseball so it should be a great weekend.”
The best-of-three series gets underway today at 7 p.m. on ESPNews and continues Sunday at 8 p.m. on ESPNU. If a third game is required, it will be played on Monday at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.
The Diamond Dogs (49-13) will start first-round draft pick Ethan Small on the mound today. The junior southpaw was the SEC Pitcher of Year, posting a 9-2 record and a 1.88 ERA with 160 strikeouts in 96 innings of work.
Small struck out 10 over six frames and picked up the win against Central Michigan in last Saturday’s Starkville Regional.
“Every week it’s about challenging myself to pitch to my strengths,” Small said. “If they’re doing something that that doesn’t work with, I’ll just make adjustments off of that.”
For now, the Bulldogs’ plan is to start senior right-hander Peyton Plumlee in Game 2. Freshman phenom JT Ginn is still rehabbing after leaving his last start on May 31 after only three innings with soreness and stiffness in his right pitching arm.
Stanford (45-12) intends to start Brendan Beck on short rest today. The sophomore righty pitched twice and threw 137 pitches over a four-day span as the Cardinal battled their way through the loser’s backet of their own regional last weekend.
Beck (5-3, 3.25 ERA) tossed seven shutout innings and only allowed three hits in a win over Sacramento State on May 31 and came out of the bullpen in Monday’s game and gave Stanford 3 1/3 perfect frames to eliminate Fresno State.
Junior left-hander Eric Miller (8-2, 3.15 ERA) is expected to start Game 2 for the Cardinal.
Friday was a designated practice day for both teams at Dudy Noble Field. The Bulldogs got a full 2½-hour workout in on the field but Stanford was chased inside the Palmeiro Center for most of its practice due to afternoon thunderstorms.
“It won’t adversely affect us and won’t be a factor in the game at all,” said Stanford coach David Esquer. “We just have to keep them doing what they’ve been doing. We’ve had rain in California a bunch this spring so hitting in the cages and not being on the field has happened before.”
Stanford is 2-0 all-time against Mississippi State with both meetings coming in postseason play. The Cardinal eliminated the Diamond Dogs from the 1990 College World Series with a 6-1 victory and also defeated them 8-6 in the 1996 NCAA West Regional in Palo Alto, California.