By Brett Hudson
The field of 64 is nearly down to 16, and for the fourth year in a row Mississippi State has a spot in that elite class. We went daily with Dogpile, our MSU baseball podcast, through the regional and that includes the final day, so there’s some extra coverage to be had there, but here are some thoughts on top of it.
Three Thoughts from the Weekend in Starkville
Weekend of revivals
As if this lineup needed more weapons, it had three more wake themselves up with impeccable timing.
Jake Mangum, back. Thanks to a four-game skid that spanned 18 at-bats, Mangum has as many hits in six 2019 postseason games (five) as he had in single games against Little Rock and ULM. But three of those five hits came in the final game of the Starkville Regional and made him one of just five people in the history of Division I baseball to amass 375 career hits. He even drove a blast of a double into the gap, and that’s the real test of him being back for me: with his foot speed, he’s got a shot at legging one out like he did for that first hit any night. Sending one into the gap with gusto for a double, his 22nd of the year, tells me all is right in the Mangum world.
Jordan Westburg, back. It’s like you could see the pretend monkey leaving his back after the double in the Miami game, the way he celebrated it. Four hits, four RBI over the weekend: he had two hits over seven games from May 3 to May 12, and now he’s got four in a weekend. In it all he even walked twice and only struck out once.
All of this comes as the 3-hole hitter, Tanner Allen, just so happens to have raised his season average from .316 to .350 in a matter of three weeks. As it exits the Starkville Regional, this lineup is terrifying.
Can you believe we live in a world in which Brad Cumbest, Gunner Halter and Luke Hancock did not get a single at-bat in a weekend, much less a postseason weekend?
Josh Hatcher was the man this weekend, as he was apparently the only option from a bench that is usually really crowded and he rewarded that call with a 5-for-12 (.416) weekend, with two doubles (.583 slugging) and four RBI.
This is wild because there are so many ways to utilize those bench bats, and MSU has proven that over more or less the entire season. They are so good at scouting individual opposing pitchers and crafting bad matchups for them that they’ll pinch hit the same position in the lineup two times in a game if need be to have the right guy in the box at a given time, but they did none of it in the first three games of the NCAA Tournament. They let it ride with Hatcher and he delivered; you can’t help but wonder what, if anything, that means for the Starkville Super Regional and beyond.
Mississippi State enters Super Regional weekend fifth in the nation in batting average (.317) and fourth in the nation in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.12), something that has not been done for an entire season since at least 2011. This team is already on the precipice of doing something rare in school history — the fifth 50-win team in school history with one more win, on the edge of back-to-back Omaha trips for the first time in 20 years — but those two numbers show a level of in-season national dominance that college baseball hasn’t seen in a decade or more.
Two Things to Know from Palo Alto
If you want to see a team punch its ticket to the Starkville Super Regional to face Mississippi State, you’ll have to stay up late: Fresno State and Stanford play each other at 9 p.m. Central on ESPNU, winner advances and loser is done.
Stanford’s leadoff man, left fielder Kyle Stowers, has been red hot in the Palo Alto Regional: 7-for-19 (.368), 5 RBI, two doubles, a home run and a stolen base. Much like Mississippi State, the Cardinal have some power bats behind him in the order — 3-hole hitter Brandon Wulff is slugging .597 thanks to 19 home runs and designated hitter Will Matthiessen has 12 doubles and 12 homers — so Stowers hitting well is dangerous. Keep an eye on his at-bats to see what could threaten the Bulldogs if it’s Stanford in Palo Alto.
Can Fresno State start?
I was reading some work from Robert Kuwada of The Fresno Bee, who is covering Fresno State in the Palo Alto Regional, and he had a couple of lines about this being a “dreaded” extra game for Fresno State. When I look at it, I think it’s because there’s no real solid plan in terms of who can start this game.
The Bulldogs are lucky to have gotten good stuffs from the guys they’ve started so far — 7.2 from Ryan Jensen on Friday, 6.2 from Davis Moore on Saturday and their usual Sunday combo of Nikoh Mitchell and Jamison Hill combining for 5 on Sunday — so the bullpen is relatively in tact. Fresno State has yet to turn to its best reliever, Jaime Arias and his 2.74 ERA over 27 appearances, tied for the team-high. It’s getting to that bullpen that will intrigue me.