The Mississippi State Bulldogs (33-22) start their march in the NCAA tournament this afternoon in Eugene, Ore. against the BYU Cougars (43-13), the champions of the WAC, in regional action today at 5 CT. In what could be one of the best regionals, the Bulldogs will face a tricky foe right off the bat.
BYUtv play-by-play announcer Robbie Bullough said the Bulldogs will face a team that is accustomed to winning and playing at this level.
"This is the eight straight year they (BYU) have won forty or more games and the eighth straight year they have made the tournament," said Bullough"This is nothing new to them. They have only been to the super regionals once. It should be a good matchup. Both teams are just within a couple in the RPI. It should be a really fun matchup."The Cougar offense can pose problems for teams, especially if the top of the line up comes to the plate to start an inning according to Bullough. He said that the line up is set up to get runners on base for clean up hitter Delaney Willard, the WAC player of the year who has 18 homers and 88 RBIs on the season.
"Delaney Willard, as a senior, kind of came out of nowhere," said Bullough. "She was hitting .500 for most of the season. She ended up breaking the WAC single season record for RBIs, and she is second in the country in RBIs. She is able to get the hits and get the power with homeruns."
The Cougars' talent does not end in the batters' box. The team also boasts talent inside the circle with a pitching staff that has an ERA that hovers around two. The Cougars have leaned most on Tori Almond and Hannah Howell.
"Sometimes, they can get a rough start where they walk the first couple of batters and get pulled in the first and second inning, but if they have control, this is a team that does not give up a lot of runs," said Bullough.
One interesting note in the series is that BYU coach Gordon Eakin serves as a hitting coach for the U.S. national team while Mississippi State coach Vann Stuedeman is known for her work with pitchers.
The Bulldog staff led by Stephanie Becker (18-10), who enters the tournament play with a 2.49, will be tasked with keeping the Cougars off of the bases to minimize the damage.
Offensively, Brittany Bell, Jessica Cooley, and Ka'ili Smith, all three potential All-SEC players, will try to crack the BYU pitching staff. With the BYU pitchers being subject to early struggles, the three who all bat in the top five of the line up may get to a starter early.
Smith boasts a .493 on base percentage, Cooley has slugged 15 homers, and Bell leads the team with a .381 batting average. Sam Lenahan, who owns a .329 average, bats in the top part of the order as well.
Click here to listen to the full interview with Robbie Bullough from the Daily Grind.