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SMITH COLUMN: State, USM get to play once again

May 30, 2011

It looks like Mississippi State's baseball team is going to get that second game with Southern Mississippi after all.
In previous seasons, the Bulldogs and Golden Eagles would always play a two-game series with one game in Hattiesburg or Pearl, Starkville or Pearl, two games in Starkville, two games in Hattiesburg, or one game on each campus.
This year, the two teams only played once with MSU winning a 5-4 decision in Pearl on April 5.
The Bulldogs pitched it well that night with Louis Pollorena getting his fourth win in relief and Caleb Reed his fourth of 11 saves this season.
When the NCAA pairings were released on Monday, MSU and Southern Miss were matched up in a first round game of the Atlanta Regional hosted by Georgia Tech.
The Golden Eagles will no doubt believe this will be a chance to get back at the Bulldogs for one of their most disappointing losses of the season. MSU will be out to prove that the one-run victory against USM was no fluke.
As the Bulldogs were watching the NCAA Selection Show on ESPN, the fact they were going to play the Golden Eagles certainly caught their eye.
"I think everyone saw who we were playing instead of where we were going," MSU senior Cody Freeman said. "It's exciting to play Southern Miss away from Pearl."
Of course, there's been quite a bit of baseball played since the two teams met on the diamond. The previous game won't have much to do with what happens on Friday.
It's not going to be an easy regional at all for the Bulldogs.
Even if MSU can defeat USM for the second time this season, it's going to have to knock off Georgia Tech on its home field at some point. The Yellow Jackets may not be a top national seed, but have an overall record of 40-19 and a fine pitching staff.
The Bulldogs are going to have to play some pretty good baseball in order to advance past Atlanta and potentially play at Florida in a Super Regional.
Still, they are thankful about getting a fresh start in the postseason.
Again the point has to be made that the 2007 MSU squad went 0-2 in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, then got on a roll and won the Tallahassee Regional, swept Clemson in a Super Regional in Starkville and reached the College World Series.
That knowledge gives the Bulldogs some motivation going to Atlanta.
"It's not always the best teams that get to Omaha, but the teams that get hot at the right time," MSU senior Ryan Collins said. "The 2007 team got hot at the Florida State Regional and it just carried over to the Super Regional. You see it all of the time. You had Fresno State a few years ago win the national championship. We're in the tournament now so everything that happened before doesn't matter. It's how we play from here on out."
The key for MSU will be not to look any farther ahead than Southern Miss on Friday.
It will be important for the Bulldogs to take the Golden Eagles seriously because that game back in April could have gone either way.
This time there's much more on the line than just state bragging rights.

Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.

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