As few as five wins could stand between the Mississippi State baseball team and a third straight trip to the College World Series in Omaha.
But three teams heading to Starkville for this weekend’s NCAA Regional can all say the same.
VCU, Campbell and Samford all punched their tickets to the Starkville Regional on Monday, and each school will be looking to oust the Bulldogs from their own event and advance to the Super Regional round.
Here’s the book on each of the three teams Mississippi State can expect to face.
No. 2 VCU (37-14, 13-3 Atlantic 10)
After losing three straight games to George Washington to drop its opening Atlantic 10 series, VCU’s record fell to just 16-14.
Then the Rams won 21 games in a row.
That ridiculous run has VCU coming into Starkville riding the longest win streak of any team in the country. VCU finished the A-10 season at 13-3, beating Dayton 7-6 on Saturday to clinch the conference tournament title. It was the school’s second A-10 championship since joining the league in 2013.
VCU last made the NCAA Super Regional round in 2015, winning Dallas Baptist’s home regional before being swept by Miami (Florida) in Coral Gables.
The Rams are led by freshman third baseman Tyler Locklear — the A-10 player of the year — who owns a .344 batting average with 16 home runs and 64 RBIs on the season. No other VCU player has more than six homers.
The Rams do have three other .300-plus hitters: Liam Hibbits (.330), Michael Haydak (.327) and Steven Carpenter (.325). Hunter Vay, who hit two home runs in the A-10 semifinals and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player, is hitting .299 with seven homers.
On the mound, Bradford Webb has been the Rams’ best starter, pitching to a 3.10 ERA in 13 starts. Mason Delane owns a 4.67 mark in 16 starts, while Tyler Davis has thrown 51.2 innings in 19 appearances out of the bullpen and owns a 9-1 record and a 4.18 ERA.
Danny Watson and Michael Dailey have each started six games for VCU, while Maddison Furman has five starts and Justin Sorokowski has four.
VCU split two games with then-No. 18 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in March and beat Virginia on April 20 at The Diamond in Richmond and again May 4 in Charlottesville.
The Rams open up against Campbell at 7 p.m. Friday.
No. 3 Campbell (35-16, 28-9 Big South)
Not many teams in conferences as small as the Big South typically earn at-large bids to the NCAA tournament.
But in 2021, the Camels had a convincing case.
Campbell — located in Buies Creek, North Carolina — went 28-9 in conference play, falling to Presbyterian in the Big South championship game Saturday. Thirty-five wins and an RPI of No. 37 in the country got the Camels a berth in the Starkville Regional.
Campbell is making its third straight NCAA regional appearance and its fourth since 2014.
Two-way player Zach Neto is Campbell’s offensive star and a key contributor to its bullpen. The redshirt freshman from Miami is hitting .414 with 10 homers and 55 RBIs, and he’s pitched to a 3.43 ERA in 21 innings on the mound.
Matthew Christian has a team-high 16 home runs and has driven in 61 runs, while Spencer Packard leads the Camels with 63 RBIs. With 24 doubles and 11 homers, Connor Denning has a higher slugging percentage (.715) than anyone but Neto (.752).
Thomas Harrington has been Campbell’s premier starter, pitching to a 2.71 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 69.2 innings. Ryan Chasse, who has a 4.05 ERA, has thrown 73.1 innings to lead the team. Cade Kuehler, who has made eight starts, has a 3.89 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 44 innings.
Campbell lost 14-6 to N.C. State on March 2 in Raleigh and lost 14-7 to Duke on April 13 in Durham. The Camels also fell 9-3 to North Carolina on May 5 in Chapel Hill.
Campbell faces VCU in its opening game at 7 p.m. Friday.
No. 4 Samford (35-22, 20-10 Southern Conference)
Mississippi State’s first opponent in the Starkville Regional will be a familiar one.
The two packs of Bulldogs will square off for the second time this season after a March 16 midweek contest in Starkville. Mississippi State won that 10-2 thanks to a six-run sixth inning.
But Samford, which won the Southern Conference’s automatic bid, isn’t exactly a pushover. Mississippi State remembers that well: Samford knocked MSU out of the Tallahassee Regional back in 2012.
In 2021, the Birmingham-based Bulldogs have won 11 of their final 14 games, including all three of their SoCon tournament contests, to close the season strong.
Junior catcher Tyler McManus is Samford’s leading hitter with a .335 average, 11 home runs, 52 RBIs and a 1.033 OPS. Sonny DiChiara bats just .265 but has 15 home runs and a .557 slugging percentage.
Junior left-hander Samuel Strickland has pitched the most for Samford, owning a 5.07 ERA in 76.1 innings across 15 starts. Zach Hester, who has also started 15 games for the Bulldogs, has a 5.82 ERA in 55.2 innings. Jesse McCord, who began his career at Mississippi State before suffering a season-ending injury in 2015 and transferring, has a 7.28 ERA in 13 starts.
Samford was swept by No. 15 overall seed Florida from Feb. 26-28 in Gainesville. Texas A&M, which did not make the NCAA tournament, swept Samford in College Station just before the Bulldogs made their trip to Starkville. Samford also lost 19-3 to Alabama on April 13 in Tuscaloosa and split a pair of games against Auburn.
Mississippi State faces Samford at 2 p.m. Friday.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.