NCAA Baseball Tournament 2013: Starkville Regional Preview -- The Teams Mississippi State Will Host

Melina Vastola-US PRESSWIRE

The Bulldogs meet some Jaguars and at least two varieties of bears in their regional bracket. Expect plenty of hitting and some speed on the base paths as well

Looking at the NCAA baseball tournament regionals that involve SEC teams

STARKVILLE REGIONAL
Winner faces winner of the Charlottesville Regional

(1) Mississippi State
RPI: 10
Record: 43-17, 16-14 SEC

The Bulldogs started out their season with 17 straight wins -- and then lost two straight to Central Arkansas to drop a series against the Bears and set their season on a more uneven course. (They went 26-17 after the 17-game winning streak.) Oh, and guess who Mississippi State faces in their first game of the regional? In any case, that regional is being held in Starkville because the Bulldogs closed almost as strongly as they opened, although for a shorter period, before Vanderbilt knocked them out of the SEC tournament in the semifinals. The star of a very good lineup is Hunter Renfroe, who's slugging .652 with 15 home runs and has a .445 on-base percentage. The Bulldogs don't run all that much, but they're effective when they do; three players who have attempted at least a half-dozen steals (Brett Pirtle, C.T. Bradford and Sam Frost) were never caught. Mississippi State also has an interesting way of pitching, by which I mean their starters rarely end up as the pitcher of record, with the bullpen picking up much of the workload. The team leader in wins with 11, Ross Mitchell, did not start a game all year. But it works; Mississippi State's team ERA is 2.77, and they're hosting a regional.

(2) South Alabama
RPI: 17-T
Record: 42-18, 20-10 Sun Belt

The Jaguars are, as you can see from the RPI, a pretty tough No. 2 seed for the Bulldogs to draw. South Alabama did lose the only regular-season meeting with the Bulldogs, 6-4, and also played Florida State relatively close before losing 2-0. In other words, don't assume that their residence in the Sun Belt Conference means their win totally is all smoke and mirrors. The Jaguars have a pretty talented starting lineup, including Jordan Patterson (.360/,493/.536), Dustin Dalken (.543 slugging with eight home runs) and Jeff DeBlieux, whose .516 slugging percentage has more to do with his 10 triples than his three home runs. The 4.21 ERA might be a weak spot, but it also might be a function of the Jaguars' league -- South Alabama ranks third in the Sun Belt in that category. In any case, you can't blame it on Patterson, who has a 2.13 ERA in his 12 appearances on the mound.

(3) Mercer
RPI: 29
Record: 43-16, 20-7 Atlantic Sun

The first of two seats of Bears in this regional. But Mercer has already beaten Ohio State and Notre Dame this year, so we're cool with them. They also hit extremely well. Mercer's team OPS is .852, and the lineup has mashed 56 home runs, tied for sixth in Division I baseball. The team batting average -- the team average, mind you -- is .301. They have also walked 301 times, good for fifth in the nation, which ain't hitting but certainly helps your offense. Throw in three fine starting pitchers and you have the recipe to win a lot of games. But the bullpen is a little shakier and might be the place where Mercer can be beat.

(4) Central Arkansas
RPI: 62
Record: 39-20, 12-15 Southland

As we mentioned before, the other Bears have had some success against Mississippi State. Actually, UCA didn't have bad luck against teams from BCS conferences this year, also notching wins against Kansas and Oklahoma State, though the Bears lost to Vanderbilt. It was in conference play that UCA really struggled. One of the secrets to the Bears' success (though sabermetricians will complain about me even saying this contributes much if anything to success) is their running game; UCA has stolen 90 bases on 111 attempts this year. Blake Marchal (29-of-33), Jonathan Davis (23-of-27) and Forrestt Allday (15-of-18) lead the way in that category. Allday also gets on base 51.8 percent of the time, so his being able to run makes him especially dangerous. The pitching is also stout; the staff as a whole has a 2.78 ERA, and only two pitchers have ERAs greater than 3.38.

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