Taylor Hawkins Sports EditorAt the close of the ninth inning in the Starkville on Monday night the Bulldogs of Mississippi State University were named victorious over the University of Central Arkansas, and the road to Omaha became a little closer.
The 2013 Starkville Regional marked the first time the Bulldogs had held one at home since 2003.
Along with UCA, the other members of the regional were the University of South Alabama and Mercer University. The Bulldogs beat the No. 4 seed UCA in the first game 5-3. In the second round, the beat No. 2 seed USA 6-2.
Central Arkansas made things interesting by defeating MSU 5-2 to force a final game on Monday night where the Bulldogs won 6-1.
This will make the second Super Regional in three years for MSU. In the previous one in 2011, they lost to the Florida Gators in three games.
This year a nationally-seeded ACC powerhouse stands in the Bulldogs’ path to Omaha.
The number six national seed Virginia won their regional in dominating fashion as they swept their three games, ending their regional on Sunday.
The Cavaliers’ pitching staff is led by ace Scott Silverstein. The senior lefty has posted an impressive 10-1 record with a 2.86 ERA, though teams are hitting .261 off of him. The other starters are Nick Howard and Brandon Waddell who have 3.38 and 3.80 ERAs, respectively.
The bats for the Cavaliers have been phenomenal. They have seven players batting over .300.
Their leadoff man Mike Papi has been a monster with the stick. The sophomore is batting .394 with an on base percentage of .527 to go along with six home runs and 55 RBIs.
Their big power guy is Brandon Downes. The sophomore has a team leading nine home runs and 58 RBIs to go with his .318 average and .567 slugging percentage.
The Cavs have the offensive advantage over the Bulldogs.
The bullpen is another strength for the Cavs. David Rosenberger, Kyle Crockett and Josh Sborz all have ERAs under 2.00 with at least 30 innings pitched.
The team’s total ERA is an astounding 3.05. The Cavs will have the edge with starting pitching.
MSU will counter the Cavs with ace Kendall Graveman, who has a salty 2.94 ERA. The other probable starters for MSU will be Luis Pollorena, who has a 4.32 ERA, and Jacob Lindgren, who has a 4.18 ERA.
The starting pitchers for the Bulldogs need to somehow go late into games to keep their bullpen fresh.
For the Bulldogs to win, they will need to break the Cavs’ pitching with the heart of their lineup, Hunter Renfroe, Brett Pirtle and Wes Rea.
Adam Frazier will also be very key. The leadoff hitter batted a stout .344 average with a .393 on base percentage. For the Bulldogs to be successful, they need base runners for Renfroe, the Ferris Award winner with a .352 average, 15 home runs and 58 RBIs.
If the Bulldogs can take the lead early, they have one of the best bullpens in the nation to close the game out.
Ross Mitchell is the big gun out of the pen. He has pitched the second most innings on the team, behind Graveman, from a relief position. With that many innings, one would expect the ERA to fluctuate.
That is not the case with Mitchell. He has an incredible1.41 ERA with over 80 innings pitched.
To close out the games, the Bulldogs have the outlandish, yet effective, Kenny Powers-ish Jonathan Holder. His 17 saves and 81 strikeouts are both first on his team.
The closer was a Freshman All-American last year, and improved on his efforts with a First Team All-SEC selection this year.
The Bulldogs have the edge with a ridiculously strong bullpen.
The Cavs, on paper, look to be the better team, but the “better” team does not always win. If the Bulldogs can score some runs early, their bullpen will allow them to pull off the upset.
The Virginia vs. MSU Super Regional will be televised at noon Saturday on ESPN2, 6 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU and 3 p.m. Monday on ESPNU.