Tonight, two of the hottest teams in the country will face off on ESPN2.
Naturally, any team in the World Series is playing well, but Mississippi State and Indiana are a combined 21-3 in their last 12 games each.
Dating back to their the final regular season game against South Carolina, the Bulldogs are 10-2, while the Hoosiers have gone on a red-hot 11-1 streak as they enter game two of the College World Series, including a 6-0 run to date in the postseason.
“The key is who gets hot at the right time,” senior MSU pitcher Kendall Graveman said. “For us, right now, we’re kind of rolling. Not only the physical part of it, but mentally, we get down in a game, we’re like, ‘Man, we’re gonna be OK. We’ll be able to come back.’ We’ve done it for the last month.”
Such has been the story for MSU as the Dawgs made their run to Omaha, and even after arriving. MSU has comeback after comeback, followed by late-inning wins and last-pitch drama.
But, oddly enough, first baseman Wes Rea likes it that way. At least a little bit.
“As stupid as it sounds, I kinda like giving up the runs in the first inning,” Rea said, “because it seems like we do it every game and we just never lose confidence. We know we’re gonna score on guys. Of course, I’d like to have a 0-spot in the first inning, but it seems like we do it a lot and the team stays focused and calm.”
“For us to be able to do that” Graveman said, “and have the confidence not only physically, but mentally; the game’s not over until that last pitch is thrown. It’s also something that humbles us. It’s also not over when we’re on the mound. For us to keep battling and grinding and finding a way to win has been pretty big.”
Big enough to have the Bulldogs in the College World Series, anyway.
In particular, MSU has been more successful at the plate the last several weeks than just about anyone in the country, as the Dawgs have scored five runs or more in 10 of their last 12 games, including 28 in their last four.
Of course, the team they face tonight – Indiana – has racked up 29 runs in their last four outings.
Sports often have a way of playing out in the opposite fashion of what we expect, but on paper, MSU-IU ought to be an offensive affair at TD Ameritrade Park.
MSU had some relative struggles at the plate in the early goings of the season, but the production the last few weeks has propelled State to where it is now.
“We’ve seen so many pitchers, so many live arms, the hitting this time of year is so much better than it was a month or two months ago,” Graveman said.
Rea has been one of the primary producers at the plate, most recently knocking in the two winning runs against Oregon State on Saturday night to open the World Series.
The junior standout has been on a tear since the postseason began, but sees a team-wide production level higher than previous standards.
“You get in a groove as a team, not only individual,” he said. “When the whole team is putting runs on the board, the same things keep happening over and over again, the same situations keep coming up. It’s been happening for us. The whole team has just kept confidence throughout the whole season.”
In that same opening game, junior shortstop Adam Frazier became the single-season hits record-holder when he reached base on a double in his first at-bat of the contest.
“I think everybody’s been a little more focused, it feels like,” he said of MSU’s hitting prowess. “We’ve been hitting pitches and not chasing too much out of the zone.
“If you’re on a hot streak in baseball, you don’t want time off. Hopefully we can keep it up.”
A testament to the focus Frazier mentioned, he was hardly aware of the record he broke, and he certainly wasn’t too fussed about it. Not now, anyway.
“Feels pretty good, I guess,” he replied when asked after the game what it was like getting the milestone. “I really wasn’t thinking about it a whole lot.”
The success for MSU has lied not just with the scoring totals, but with batting smart, making good contact.
“Great barrels,” as one coach in the dugout put it during Saturday’s game.
The Bulldogs have made consistent contact. They’ve gotten on base. Most importantly, they’ve gotten to pitchers.
As Rea mentioned, his team has had no issues coming from behind, something he made happen himself against OSU.
“I knew we were gonna score some more runs,” Graveman recalled. “I just didn’t know when it was gonna be.”
Starting the day, both the Bulldogs and Hoosiers enter on impressive hot streaks. By the end of the night, only one will remain.