May 17, 2018 11:07:18 AM
The Mississippi State softball team will get another chance this weekend.
Coach Vann Stuedeman has continued the tradition of guiding the program to the postseason. The Bulldogs have made 14 NCAA regional appearances. Of that total, six have come in Stuedeman's seven seasons as coach.
Now, the Bulldogs will try to achieve more.
MSU will begin its 14th quest for a super regional berth at 8 p.m. Friday (ESPN2) when it takes on North Dakota State in the Arizona-hosted Tucson Regional.
A perennial College World Series participant, the 14th-seeded Wildcats are a favorite to defend the home field to set up a super regional matchup against third-seeded UCLA.
MSU will try to thwart those plans with a signature win and its first super regional berth. Ole Miss played in a super regional last season, while Southern Mississippi played in the College World Series twice in the 1990s.
In the last three decades, MSU has enjoyed more success than Ole Miss and Southern Miss combined. However, the Bulldogs remain a step away from joining their state rivals.
When the Bulldogs were chosen for a regional Sunday night, there was no sigh of relief. It is now an expectation. Veteran coach Jay Miller was removed from his duties after the team missed a regional in back-to-back seasons (2010 and 2011).
Stuedeman's squad has bounced back from missing a regional in 2016.
This season, MSU has been ranked in both national polls for almost all of the final two months of the season. The Bulldogs won a Southeastern Conference tournament game for the first time since 2005. In the final Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), MSU finished in the top 20 for the first time under Stuedeman.
The Bulldogs are a No. 2 seed in a regional for the second time in program history. Miller led the team to the same position in 2008.
To the casual observer, the resume is outstanding. When you live in the SEC, it's just ordinary.
To become an upper-echelon program, MSU needs to play in super regionals. It is the next step to opening more doors on the recruiting trail.
Right at 90 percent of the time, NCAA regional hosts win their tournament to advance to a super regional. A year ago, Ole Miss won the first regional played in this state.
This season, South Carolina is playing host a regional for the first time since 2007, while Arkansas is playing host to a regional for the first time in program history.
That means 12 of the 13 SEC-playing softball schools have played host at least one regional.
MSU lost all three games it played at Arkansas and all three games it played at South Carolina. MSU held a seventh-inning lead in all three games of its series against Georgia but only won one time.
The Bulldogs were as high as 15 in the RPI this season. However, an eight-game conference losing streak in April snuffed out all hopes of earning a chance to play host to a regional.
MSU should be commended for winning 36 games and being nationally ranked for most of the season. The best recruiting class reported in the fall.
Two of the talented newcomers suffered season-ending injuries in fall practice. Another (freshman catcher Mia Davidson) set the school record home runs in a season (18) and was named SEC freshman of the year.
Stuedeman said the two injured players could have had similar impacts to Davidson. The Bulldogs were a strong offensive team (.286) but could have been better.
In the circle, senior Holly Ward posted a 15-7 record with 1.33 earned run average. She threw eight shutouts. The Bulldogs had a school-record 18 as a staff.
In the American Athletic Conference, those numbers would jump off the page. In the SEC, they are good numbers in a great league.
MSU has another chance to add to its accomplishments this weekend. One epic upset can change a program. The Bulldogs are capable of beating anyone. The breakthrough win just hasn't come yet.
Scott Walters is a sports writer for The Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
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