Hoos Host Mississippi State In Supers

Brandon Downes is coming off a strong showing in the Charlottesville Regional
Brandon Downes is coming off a strong showing in the Charlottesville Regional

After dropping two games against Virginia Tech, the Virginia Cavaliers have won 12 of their last 14 games. To carry that string of hot play into Omaha, they will have to defeat a top-ten RPI team in Mississippi State.

John Cohen assumed the head coaching position at his alma mater in 2008. An All-SEC outfielder for the Bulldogs, Cohen was part of the 1990 Mississippi State team that went to the College World Series. 2013 marks the third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance for Mississippi State and the second Super Regional berth during those three years.

Virginia is making its fourth Super Regional appearance, three of which the Cavaliers have hosted. Before Brian O’Connor came to Charlottesville in 2004, Virginia had just three postseason appearances in program history. The Cavaliers have made the NCAA Tournament every year under O’Connor, and a series win this weekend would send them to Omaha for the third time in five years.

When Virginia is batting, Mississippi State’s dominant pitching staff (10th in Division I in both earned run average and strikeouts) will be matched against one of the best offenses in the nation (third in runs per game, 10th in batting average). Like the Cavaliers, Mississippi State’s staff consists on reliable starting pitchers and a dominant bullpen. Kendall Graveman has the rotation’s best earned run average (2.94), while Jacob Lindgren’s command has helped him post a 65-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

However, the breadwinners of the staff are the collection of relief pitchers with at least 30 innings and ERAs below 1.50. Closer Jonathan Holder is tied for the SEC lead in saves (17), limiting opposing hitters to a .149 average and striking out 81 batters in 46 innings. Chad Girodo has another 53 strikeouts with a 1.10 ERA. Ross Mitchell has picked up 12 wins and logged a 1.41 ERA in 83 innings of middle and long relief. Ben Bracewell adds another 20 appearances, with a 1.48 ERA and a .170 opposing batting average.

The Cavaliers hope they have the firepower to counter the Bulldogs’ pitching prowess. Mike Papi boasts the nation’s best on base percentage (.527), along with a .393 batting average and a .625 slugging percentage. NIck Howard and Brandon Downes are both coming off strong weekends in the Charlottesville Regional. Both opened the weekend 0-for-4 showings against Army, but dominated in two games against Elon. Howard was 6-for-9 with three runs scored and two runs batted in over those two games, while Downes batted 4-for-8 with three runs and an RBI.

Offensively, Mississippi State is led by junior Hunter Renfroe. The first-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres in this week’s MLB Draft is batting .352 for the Bulldogs, with 15 doubles, 15 home runs, 58 RBI, and nine stolen bases. There aren’t many other power threats in the lineup, but Adam Frazier and Alex Detz are both batting above .330.

Virginia pitchers Brandon Waddell and Scott Silverstein combined for 14 strikeouts, nine hits allowed, and one earned run in 13 innings during the Charlottesville Regional. All-ACC reliever Kyle Crockett earned MVP of the regional with seven strikeouts in four innings to record the saves in Virginia’s first two games of the weekend, and was a fourth-round selection of the Cleveland Indians this week to boot.

Mississippi State is 8-9 on the road, without only one series win away from Starkville (a sweep of Texas A&M). Meanwhile, Virginia is 35-3 at Davenport Field, and the Cavaliers have won their last 13 home games.


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