HOOVER, Ala. — Tom and Sharon Monaghan have never needed extra incentive to attend the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament.
However, the Starkville couple continues to find more and more each year.
They were in their customary seats Thursday night at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium when third-ranked Mississippi State dropped a 6-2 decision to LSU in the third round of the event.
MSU will play Florida in an elimination game today. That contest will start 30 minutes after the completion of the 3 p.m. contest between Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. Both games will be shown on the SEC Network.
For the Monaghans, baseball runs in the family.
“Baseball has always been a love in our family,” Tom Monaghan said. “Our son (Mark) played in high school (at Starkville High School) and in college (at the University of New Orleans). He is the coach at DeSoto Central High School right now. So we grew up taking him to games. Dudy Noble Field is a place you can fall in love with rather quickly.”
The Monaghans have been long-time season-ticket holders for the Bulldogs. Each year, they consider the trip to Hoover icing on the cake.
Sharon Monaghan is actually a native of the Hoover area. Recently, daughter (Kelly) and son-in-law (Ryan) moved to the area.
“It has turned into a family trip now each year,” Sharon Monaghan said. “It’s nice that we have a place to stay. But we always come over here when State is in the tournament.”
‘Best baseball around’
MSU and LSU have traditionally been the best SEC tournament-drawing teams in the league. A crowd of 11,390 attended the Thursday night session, while a crowd of 13,448 attended the final two-game set on Wednesday.
“This is like a mini-College World Series,” Tom Monaghan said. “The crowds are always great and everybody is into the game. You are going to see several Top 10 teams and some of the best baseball around. I think that is why this is a great event.
“The stadium is nice. The baseball is good and the crowd is so passionate,” he added.
Over the years, the Monaghan family has made friends with several of the Bulldogs players. Drew Williams played for the Bulldogs in the early 1990s. Tom and Drew used to go hunting together on a regular basis during Drew’s playing days as an all-conference first baseman.
That relationship has lasted 25 years now with the couple staying in touch with Drew and his family.
“That is what makes the Mississippi State program so special and sets it apart,” Tom Monaghan said. “The Starkville community is small and the athletic teams are important. You can have special relationships with the players and coaches and get to know them. Everybody is so personable.”
After missing the SEC tournament and an NCAA regional a year ago, the Bulldogs have enjoyed a resurgence. MSU topped the 40-win mark in the regular season, set a school record with 21 Southeastern Conference victories and also claimed the program’s SEC championship since 1989.
Entering this week’s tournament, MSU was ranked No. 1 nationally by a pair of publications.
“I knew we were going to be better but I had no idea we were going to be this much better,” Tom Monaghan said. “A lot of credit goes to coach (John) Cohen and these boys for what they have been able to accomplish.
“Winning the best league in America is a major statement. It has been fun to go to the games and see the team have this type of success this season.”
When the NCAA regional field is unveiled Monday, MSU is projected to host a regional for the second time under Cohen and also earn a first-ever national seed. That would mean MSU would play all postseason games at home until being eliminated or advancing to the College World Series for the second time in four years.
This weekend, the SEC is also expected to announce future plans for the conference tournament. After being held 19 straight years at Hoover, the contract is up and the SEC has been listening to offers from other cities, including likely front-runner Memphis, Tennessee.
“I am sure we will go wherever the games are played,” Sharon Monaghan said. “It will be disappointing though (if the tournament leaves Hoover), because this has turned into a family affair for us.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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