Arizona baseball: Previewing the Wildcats' NCAA Tournament Super Regional matchup vs. Mississippi State
After winning three consecutive elimination games in the Lafayette Regional, the Arizona baseball team advanced to the Super Regionals, where it'll take on Mississippi State University for a three-game series in Starkville, Mississippi.
A series win would put the Wildcats in the College World Series for the first time since 2012 — the same year Arizona won the National Championship — and it'd be their 17th appearance in total as a program .
With back-to-back wins against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, whom had the nation’s longest win streak prior to Monday, Arizona is a Cinderella story of sorts heading into the NCAA Tournament.
Arizona head coach Jay Johnson took over what was considered to be a rebuilding program and has exceeded expectations, leading the Wildcats to a Super Regional and advancing farther in the NCAA Tournament than any other Pac-12 Conference team .
“I can’t say enough about our team,” Johnson told the Arizona Daily Star. “This has not been easy. From June 8 or whenever I took the job on, all the credit goes to the 32 guys on that roster. Toughness has been redefined by this group. I could not be more proud of them.”
Now, led by senior pitcher Nathan Bannister whose 2.63 ERA is one of the best marks in the Pac-12, with the addition of a potent offensive lineup, Arizona has a chance to exceed expectations even further.
But that will be easier said than done, as it has to get through a tough MSU team first. A team that was dominant in its regional last week, winning all three games in its home ballpark.
Under eighth-season head coach John Cohen, who UA Athletic Director Greg Byrne hired while in the same position at MSU, the Bulldogs have a strong history of winning. They've made five postseason appearances in Cohen's tenure, including a trip to the College World Series in 2013 .
This season, the Bulldogs compiled a 44-16-1 record and were regular season champions of the Southeastern Conference .
Led by junior ace Zac Houston, the Bulldogs have a pitching rotation that will put Arizona's offense to the test. While the Wildcats have seen some of the best rotations in the country this season in California State University, Fullerton and ULL, this might be the best one yet.
Houston is undefeated on the season with an earned run average of just 1.63. The junior, known for pounding the strike zone, has made 18 appearances this season, allowing only 29 hits and seven earned runs.
Sophomore right-hander Ryan Rigby has been nearly as successful, posting a 1.75 ERA and 5-1 record on the season. As a whole, five out of 10 MSU pitchers have an ERA below 3.00 .
Offensively, the Bulldogs' most dangerous hitter is Jake Mangum. Only a freshman, Mangum is hitting .418, with an impressive .520 slugging percentage. The freshman also leads the team in on-base percentage at .470 .
Similar to Arizona, MSU has a formidable offensive attack. However, unlike the Wildcats, the Bulldogs use the long ball to their advantage. MSU is hitting .312 on the season, including 45 home runs. Arizona hit just 23 homers this season, though that partly can be attributed to the team playing its home games at the spacious Hi Corbett Field.
That being said, stats from previous games are all but moot now, and all that matters is how the teams perform in a short, three-game series, which will begin Friday, June 10.
The starting pitchers have yet to be announced.
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