For a baseball series that began more than a century ago, it’s difficult to determine exactly how many times LSU and Mississippi State have met on the diamond.
According to Mississippi State’s media guide, the teams first met in 1907, and they've played almost 400 times. The Bulldogs lead the overall series, but archives aren't conclusive on how large that lead is.
Only once have these two programs met in the NCAA postseason. That was in the second round of 1998 College World Series. LSU beat the Bulldogs 10-8, but both teams were eliminated by eventual national champion USC.
This weekend at Alex Box Stadium, the teams do indeed meet again in the postseason. At 8 p.m. Saturday, when the first game of the Baton Rouge super regional gets underway, LSU and Mississippi State begin to write a new chapter in a rivalry rich with drama and intrigue.
“I think it’s one of the greatest rivalries in all of college baseball,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said, “and it adds significance to it this weekend because the winner gets to go play in Omaha for a national championship.”
After losing its regional opener to South Alabama, Mississippi State fought off elimination in the Hattiesburg regional, beating Southern Mississippi in dramatic fashion in Monday’s final game.
That set up a rematch — just two weeks after the Tigers swept the Bulldogs in Starkville, Mississippi, to win the SEC West title and a share of the overall conference crown.
“I told our players, ‘We don’t need to beat them five times. We only have to beat them twice,’ ” Mainieri said. “What we’ve already done is ancient history. Those games don’t count anymore.
"The significance of those three games was apparent at that time. We were fortunate to be successful and because of that we get a couple of trophies in our trophy case. But we don’t have to beat them five times. We only have to beat them twice. That’s the frame of mind that we’re going to have.”
The Bulldogs, plagued by injuries to its pitching staff, are the 22nd team in the NCAA tournament’s current format to win a regional after losing their first game. On top of winning four games in two days because of weather postponements and delays, Mississippi State needed a few breaks to beat Southern Miss in the winner-take-all game Monday.
The Bulldogs took a 7-6 lead in the eighth inning when Mississippi State slugger Brent Rooker hit a pop-up that the Golden Eagles were unable to catch, allowing two runs to score. There was also a controversial call at first base in bottom half of the eighth that didn’t go in Southern Miss’ favor, preventing the tying run from scoring.
Because of those things, the super regional matchup between the SEC rivals feels meant to be, LSU’s Greg Deichmann said.
“It’s almost like it was set up,” he said. “Obviously, it’s not, but it’s just kind of destiny that it happened. Playing them for the two titles — the SEC West and the overall (SEC regular-season title) — and then matching up with them in the supers, you couldn’t really write a story line any better.”
The SEC West was on the line. Now the College World Series is on the line. And of course, former LSU hitting coach Andy Cannizaro returns to Alex Box for the first time as Mississippi State's head coach.
The last time Cannizaro was a part of a super regional (and not wearing LSU’s colors), he was playing shortstop for Tulane in 2001, when the Green Wave earned its first trip to Omaha, Nebraska, by beating the Tigers at Zephyr Field.
Cannizaro’s controversial departure from LSU at the end of fall practice was the topic of conversation when the two teams met at the end of the regular season, but Mainieri said he believes he and his players — many of whom still communicate with Cannizaro — are past that.
“I tried to divert the attention away from who their coach is and the fact the focus could be on the kids, which is where it should be, and what it meant,” Mainieri said of the last time the two teams met.
“But it was unavoidable, and I understand the story line. But I think this weekend, we’ve already gotten that out of the way. I’m sure all Andy is concerned about it is having his team prepared to try to beat LSU so that they can go to Omaha. I know that’s the only thing that crosses my mind.”