In what is one of only two Super Regionals this year to feature an ACC vs. SEC match-up, the #9 Mississippi State Bulldogs (46-18) will travel to Charlottesville, VA to take on the #6 nationally seeded Virginia Cavaliers (50-10). Mississippi State will be looking to return to the College World Series for the first time since 2007, while UVA will be hoping to make it their second trip since 2011 when they entered the CWS as the number one overall seed nationally.
The Bulldogs are coming off a hard fought regional in Starkville that needed two championship games to finish. MSU dropped the first game of their regional final against fourth seeded Central Arkansas 5-2 behind some questionable defense for the Bulldogs (they had four errors), but came back to beat the UCA Bears in convincing fashion 6-1 thanks to 17 strikeouts from the duo of Ben Bracewell and Chad Girodo.
Offensively, the two main cogs in MSU’s line-up are lead-off hitter Adam Frazier (.345 60 runs, 17 2B) and first team All-America right fielder Hunter Renfroe (.359, 15 HR, 60 RBI). However, junior Alex Detz comes into this super regional as the Bulldogs’ hottest hitter, managing a .615 average during his four games in Starkville.
While MSU’s .293 batting average as a team was good for 3rd in the SEC this season, the Bulldogs’ strength, far and away, has been in the bullpen where the trio of third team All-America Ross Mitchell, Girodo, and first team All-America closer Jonathan Holder have combined for 21 wins (12 from Mitchell), 18 saves (17 from Holder), and a 1.27 ERA (Girodo leading the way at 1.10). Holder has been other-worldly dominant this year striking out an insane 81 batters in just 46 innings pitched and holding opponents to a .149 batting average. Associate head coach Butch Thompson has shown that his pitching staff can be effective despite lacking a prominent starter. In their regional, Kendall Graveman was the only MSU starter to reach 6.1 innings and no other Bulldog starter went longer than 3.2 innings.
Virginia is coming off a dominant showing during their regional in which they went 3-0 and allowed just four runs over those three games. The Cavs received strong outings from starters Scott Silverstein and Brandon Waddell while the bullpen, as they have done all year, continued to be dominant not allowing a run in eleven innings of work. While the Cavaliers have a plethora of talented arms to choose from (as was demonstrated against Elon when reliever Austin Young was pulled after facing just two batters, surrendering a hit and a walk, in a 10-3 game), their strength is at the plate, where the Wahoos led the ACC in average (.313), doubles (132), triples (31) and slugging percentage (.465). This all despite having not one player named to any of the three Louisville Slugger All-America teams.
Also of note, shortstop Branden Cogswell is still doubtful to start in Saturday’s game although has resumed practice with the team. Cogswell broke his middle finger in early May in a game against Duke and has not played a game since undergoing surgery. Cogswell’s .346 batting average is second best on the Cavaliers.
While the critics can argue that UVA might have had an easier regional than MSU (and they would probably be right), the Cavaliers have a demonstrated a distinct advantage playing at Davenport Field going 35-3 at home this season. This is particularly bad news for Mississippi State who managed just an 8-9 record on the road this season. As well, another factor that could prove favorable for the Cavs is the prevalence of left-handed hitters in the Bulldog lineup and the dominance of UVA lefties such as Silverstein, Waddell and Crockett on the mound. (On the season, the Bulldogs have a worse winning percentage against left-handed starters than right-handed starters.) Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, Mississippi State is just 4-14 when trailing after six innings. While the Bulldogs bullpen has gained national attention this season, the Hoos’ bullpen has been outstanding in its own right (especially Crockett who has struck out 68 and walked just 6 in 53.2 innings this year). This combined with Virginia’s superior talent at the plate could prove to be too much for Mississippi State to overcome and advance to Omaha.
Projected Winner: Virginia
Game one in Charlottesville starts 1:00pm EST on ESPN2.
Players to Watch
OF Mike Papi (.393, 15 2B, 6 HR, 55 RBI)
OF Brandon Downes (.318, 20 2B, 7 3B, 9 HR, 58 RBI)
DH Derek fisher (.306, 12 2B, 7 HR, 47 RBI)
LHP Scott Silverstein (10-1, 2.86 ERA, 88.0 IP, 25 BB, 69 K)
LHP Kyle Crockett (12 SV, 1.68 ERA, 4-1, 53.2 IP, 6 BB, 68 K)
RHP Josh Sborz (2 SV, 1.84 ERA, 3-0, 49.0 IP, 11 BB, 46 K)
OF Hunter Renfroe (.359, 15 2B, 15 HR, 60 RBI)
SS Adam Frazier (.344, 17 2B, 6 3B, 60 R)
RHP Jonathan Holder (17 SV, 1.17 ERA, 2-0, 46.0 IP, 14 BB, 81 K)
LHP Ross Mitchell (12-0, 1.41 ERA, 0 GS, 83.0 IP, 23 BB, 43 K)
LHP Chad Girodo (7-1, 1.10 ERA, 0 GS, 41.0 IP, 14 BB, 53 K)