May 18, 2017 10:09:04 AM
STARKVILLE -- On Feb. 19, the Mississippi State baseball team rallied to beat Western Illinois and Texas Tech in a doubleheader at Dudy Noble Field.
Little did the Bulldogs know they were setting the tone for the season.
No. 11 MSU (34-19, 17-10 Southeastern Conference) enters the final weekend series of the regular season with 21 come-from-behind victories. MSU will try to add to that total at 6 tonight (SEC Network) when it plays host to No. 10 LSU (36-17, 18-9 SEC) in Game 1 of a three-game SEC weekend series at Dudy Noble Field.
"If we get down early in a game, we tell ourselves we have seven more times to hit, eight more times to hit, we're fine," senior catcher Josh Lovelady said.
The come-from-behind victories have pushed the Bulldogs into the thick of the SEC West championship race. After being swept by Arkansas in its first SEC series and losing to Southern Mississippi, MSU trailed Tennessee 4-2 in Game 1 in the seventh inning. A Tanner Poole RBI single and a Brent Rooker two-run double lifted MSU to a 5-4 win. It was the first of seven-straight wins that elevated MSU into a position to play host to a NCAA tournament regional.
The final three games of that streak -- all of them comebacks against Ole Miss -- launched MSU into the national rankings and helped it win eight of its next 10 conference games.
Lovelady smiled when he said the Bulldogs don't prefer to come from behind to win games.
"We'd like to win every game by 10," he said. "It would be fun to get to the ninth inning and be up eight or nine runs. That would be pretty relaxing."
MSU coach Andy Cannizaro said the comeback wins are a testament to the team's character. The most recent example came Tuesday night, when MSU rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the third inning to beat Troy 10-8.
"You never necessarily want to play the first two-and-a-half hours to rush them in the last half-hour to try to win the ballgame," Cannizaro said, "but our guys have a tremendous amount of fight. They keep coming. They don't stop. They attack for nine innings.
"We play a full nine innings of baseball or however long it takes, so if somebody's going to beat us they're going to have to play great for nine innings. Our track record shows that."
Keeping the trend going for this long has surprised some of the players.
"We're slapping hands after a win wondering how we're doing this," shortstop Ryan Gridley said.
Said center fielder Jake Mangum, "Some teams in college don't have that many wins total."
As of Wednesday morning, 84 teams in college baseball had fewer than 21 wins. Four -- Alabama, USC, Rutgers, and Penn State -- hail from Power 5 Conferences.
n NOTE: Prior to its final regular-season game, MSU will break ground on the new, state-of-the-art Dudy Noble Field at 2 p.m. Saturday. The ground-breaking ceremony will take place between the Palmeiro Center and the current Dudy Noble Field. It leads up to the series finale between No. 11 MSU and No. 10 LSU at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Fulton-based JESCO, Inc., has been awarded the contract to construct the new Dudy Noble Field. JESCO, Inc., recently erected MSU projects Mize Pavilion at Humphrey Coliseum and the Leo Seal Jr. Football Complex. Jackson-based Wier Boerner Allin Architecture and national baseball stadium experts Populous created the Dudy Noble Field Master Plan. The groundbreaking ceremony will be one of several events taking place this weekend as part of the Dudy Noble Field Celebration Series. MSU will honor its seniors on the field, highlight the greatest fans in college baseball and welcome Diamond Dawg greats from all generations. A complete schedule of events is available at HailState.com/DNFcelebration.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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