STARKVILLE — The Mississippi State baseball team hit the re-set button on its season Monday afternoon.
After losing seven of its final 10 games, MSU turned its full season body of work into a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament’s Hattiesburg Regional, which will be hosted by Southern Mississippi.
MSU (36-24) will face No. 3 South Alabama (39-19) in its tournament opener at 6 p.m. Friday at Pete Taylor Park. The 1 p.m. tournament opener will feature No. 1 seed USM (48-14) and No. 4 seed Illinois-Chicago (38-15).
No national television is planned for the Hattiesburg Regional. However, the games will be available online through the Watch ESPN app. The Hattiesburg Regional winner will face the Baton Rouge Regional winner in the super regional round.
“It’s a fresh start, and this baseball team needed that,” MSU first-year head coach Andy Cannizaro said. “I am really proud of what this team will able to overcome from an injury standpoint. To be one of the final 64 teams playing is an honor. Anybody can beat anybody, If you get in, you have a chance.”
Cannizaro joins Pat McMahon (1998) as the school’s only coaches to earn a regional bid in his first season.
After winning the Southeastern Conference regular-season title under John Cohen in 2016, expectations were lower for this season’s squad. A multitude of pitching injuries led the Bulldogs to use 20 pitchers this season.
Still, MSU was leading the conference and poised to earn a second-straight national seed with two weeks remaining in the regular season, but it lost back-to-back conference series to Georgia and regular season co-champion LSU. MSU then went 2-2 in the SEC tournament.
Despite the recent struggles, the Bulldogs have new life and a new mind-set.
“In the SEC tournament, we would have to have won five games,” Cannizaro said. “We just aren’t a team built do that. We don’t have that pitching depth. A regional is different. You have to play well three times to get through. At the end of the regular season, we were playing conference games with 21, 22 and 23 players dressed out.
“Next season, we will have more players and get the injured players back. It will be a different scenario then. However, we still like our chances this weekend.”
Cannizaro said the staff would meet to discuss whether ace Konnor Pilkington would throw against USA or would be held for a day two matchup. Cannizaro also said Cole Gordon would draw the other start in the team’s first two games.
“We have six or seven guys we can run out there,” Pilkington said. “Whenever my name is called, I am going to give all I have got to this team. We are excited about this opportunity.”
In the regular season, MSU went 2-1 against South Alabama, winning twice in Starkville. MSU lost its only meeting with Southern Miss in a game played in Pearl.
USM earned the host role for a regional by winning the Conference USA regular-season title. Rice edged USM 5-4 on Sunday in the championship game of the C-USA tournament in Biloxi. Coach Scott Berry’s squad shattered the previous school record for wins (42).
“We are ready for the postseason,” MSU sophomore Jake Mangum said. “It’s a big deal playing in Hattiesburg because that means a lot of our fans can go. We beat South Alabama during the regular season, and we are also familiar with (Southern Miss).”
Ticket sales will be limited to Southern Miss Circle of Champions and Eagle Club members today. Tickets then will be available to Southern Miss students, faculty, and staff members Wednesday morning. General public sales begin at 1 p.m. Wednesday, if any tickets remain.
The MSU ticket office won’t have any tickets available. The Southern Miss ticket office is located in the Pat Ferlise Center and can be reached at 601-266-5418. Additional ticket purchasing information is available at www.southernmiss.com.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.