HED:Turning up the heat
Record: 48-16 41-18
Ranking*: 5 10
Batting: .304 .313
Avg. Runs: 7.47 8.56
HR 36 69
Slugging: .435 .500
On-Base: .397 .409
Steals: 105-139 49-62
Fielding: .969 .965
ERA: 3.96 4.63
Opp. Hitting: .261 .261
* - Collegiate Baseball poll
MSU at Clemson
Today: 6 p.m.
Saturday: 6 p.m.
Sunday: If necessary, 1 p.m.
TV: Comcast Sports Southeast, Tupelo channel 48
By Parrish Alford
Mississippi State will face a lot of pressure in its Super Regional matchup at Clemson tonight.
And it won't come just because the Bulldogs are on the doorstep of the College World Series.
Game times in the best-of-three series are 6 tonight, 6 p.m. Saturday and, if necessary, 1 p.m. Sunday.
All games will be televised by Comcast Sports Southeast, channel 48 on the Tupelo cable system.
Fifth-ranked Clemson (48-16) is a team well-suited for its cavernous Kingsmore Stadium, with foul poles 328 feet away in left field and 338 feet in right.
The Tigers have stolen 105 bases in 139 attempts - a success rate of 75 percent - and have six players with double-figure steals.
"Generally speaking, it's what you would do there if you were putting together a club," MSU pitching coach Jim Case said. "You're not going to hit it out of that park consistently."
Outfielders Casey Stone and Patrick Boyd are Clemson's top two threats on the base paths. Between them they've swiped 40 out of 50, getting caught just twice in every 10 attempts.
Case said the Bulldogs (41-18) did "a better job" of slowing down the run in the Starkville Regional.
"They've put up some really big numbers," said MSU starter Kevin Donovan, who takes the mound tonight. "The big thing we have to do is keep them close and give (Ryan) McGrath (MSU catcher) a chance to throw them out. When you've got a big-time running team, and you stop their run, it's like taking away their biggest weapon."
As a left-hander Donovan (7-4, 3.54 ERA) has an easier time watching runners at first base. State will start left-handed Mark Freed (9-1) Saturday and could start left-hander Joey Collums (2-1) in a Sunday game.
Boyd, the centerfielder, doesn't believe a southpaw trio would be a problem.
"Maybe in previous years left-handers would have gotten us out better," the switch-hitter said. "Our left-handed batters are coming along and seeing the ball well, and we've got some good, strong right-handed sticks to go with them.
"Early in the season I was having trouble finding my swing, but now I'm feeling comfortable from both sides. I'm looking forward to batting right-handed."
Boyd is hitting .285 - down from the .390 he hit last season - with 18 doubles and four triples. He had been ranked by Baseball America among the top three college prospects for next week's Major League draft, but has dropped to No. 73 with his junior season slide.
Still, Boyd is hitting more than .400 through the 2000 postseason.
Freshman shortstop Jeff Baker has 11 home runs, the only Clemson player in double figures.
Senior right-hander Ryan Mottl (9-3, 3.41) will oppose Donovan. Mottl has pitched complete-game wins in his last two outings. He's 22-2 for his career at Kingsmore Stadium, including 6-0 with a 1.77 ERA this season. Visitors are batting .184 against him.
Numbers like that make it important for State to keep Clemson's run-manufacturing machine in check.
"Stolen bases are a big part of the game because they take away the force out," Case said.
"But some guys are just going to steal bases. You may never throw Kenny Lofton (Cleveland Indians) out, but it's the other guys in the Big Leagues, the ones with 20 steals, that you have to control.
"You can throw them out if you do a good job of holding them on base."