May 26—HOOVER, Ala. — Mississippi State doesn’t necessarily need to make a deep run this week, but that isn’t stopping coach Chris Lemonis from trying to win the SEC Tournament.
No. 3 seed Mississippi State opens tournament play today against No. 6 seed Florida at 9:30 a.m. Florida beat Kentucky, 4-1, in the single-elimination portion of the tournament on Tuesday.
Mississippi State (40-13) has already locked up its regional host spot and is currently ranked as a national seed by both D1Baseball and Baseball America.
The Bulldogs likely have a national seed locked up as well, but that’s not stopping Lemonis from aiming to walk off the field on Sunday with the SEC Tournament trophy and a higher national seed.
“You never know where you stand,” Lemonis said. “You’re not guaranteed anything. Somebody could jump up and have an unbelievable week. … I’d like our kids go there and play great baseball. I’d love to be there on Sunday afternoon taking a trophy home. We have a lot secured and a lot to play for.”
Florida (36-19) pitched its ace, Tommy Mace, against Kentucky on Tuesday. The Gators will likely throw second-year freshman Hunter Barco, who sports a 9-2 record with a 4.04 ERA this year.
The left-handed Barco has started 14 games this year and was named to the All-SEC Newcomer team on Monday afternoon. He has allowed 34 earned runs on 71 hits in 75 2/3 innings. He has walked 25 batters and struck out 92.
Mississippi State’s pitching has not been announced, but Lemonis said on Monday that he would not push any pitchers and will need a few extra arms to step up to win the tournament.
That will likely have to happen today, as Lemonis will probably hold starters Christian MacLeod until Thursday and Will Bednar if the team makes it to Friday so he can keep his starters in a rhythm.
Jackson Fristoe and Houston Harding will likely continue to combo their starts on Saturday if MSU makes it that far.
Some of the arms that could step up and start this morning include Brandon Smith, Cade Smith or Eric Cerantola. Brandon and Cade have each made one start this year while Cerantola has started four games.
“You’d love to have three starters,” Lemonis said. “One reason we had a great weekend was we had great starting pitching, particularly from our first two guys. Maybe we find him at this tournament. It’s an opportunity to start somebody else and I’d love to find somebody.”