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Spartans prepare for first NCAA Tournament berth since 1979

May 31, 2012

The MSU baseball team begins its wild west NCAA Tournament shootout today in Palo Alto, Calif., as the No. 3-seed Spartans take on No. 2-seed Pepperdine in the first round of the Palo Alto Regional at 4 p.m. EST.

After sneaking into the field of 64 teams Monday, the Spartans (34-21) are headed to California with the intention of making a name for themselves by competing against the nation’s best for the first time since 1979.

“It’s a thrill for us to be able to represent Michigan State on a national level,” head coach Jake Boss Jr. said. “And we’ve seen so many of our colleagues and our friends here get a chance to do that … to get a chance to kind of do what they’ve done too is pretty neat for our guys.”

The team was mum on details about the Waves, the same first-round opponent from the last time MSU was in the tournament 33 years ago, prior to departure Wednesday afternoon.

“No idea,” senior pitcher Tony Bucciferro said. “I’ve got nothing … the (pitcher is) from Cali.”

Junior second baseman Ryan Jones had little more to say than Bucciferro regarding Pepperdine and its starting pitcher.

“Nothing,” he said on his knowledge of the Waves. “But coach said he’s going to be pretty good. I don’t know his name or anything.”

Boss said the players would be using the time on the airplane to study Pepperdine further. The Waves hail from Malibu, Calif., and earned their bid by winning the West Coast Conference.

“For us, we’ll try to prepare a little bit for Pepperdine, but in our game, it’s more about us doing what we do well,” Boss said. “The game doesn’t really change a whole lot.”

Bucciferro will get the start against the Waves and has been chomping at the bit to get on the mound one more time in a Spartan uniform. MSU is relying on its deep pitching staff to make some noise in the regional, Boss said.

“He couldn’t sit still Monday after our name popped up on the screen,” Boss said. “It was funny to watch because he literally could not sit down. He couldn’t stand still.”

The Palo Alto Regional hosts the second-highest average RPI rating among teams in the NCAA Tournament. Following MSU’s 4 p.m. contest, No. 1-seed Stanford meets No. 4-seed Fresno State in the other regional matchup at 9 p.m. EST.

The Spartans are hoping their experience in big stadiums and intense atmosphere will pay off in Palo Alto after playing on the road at Texas A&M and Baylor earlier in the season. All regional games will be played in Stanford’s Klein Field at Sunken Diamond, a 4,000-seat stadium that is regarded as one of the most beautiful collegiate venues in the nation.

“We’ve just gotta keep our same approach that we’ve had all year, stay within ourselves and execute offensively and defensively,” Jones said. “We can’t try to do too much as a team and we just gotta really execute, I think that’s going to be key this week.”

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