Local rivals tangle on bigger stage

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 22, 2002

[05/22/02]At one time, at a baseball showcase in Oklahoma, a young Taylor Tankersley and a slightly older Robby Goodson were roommates.

They battled throughout high school Tankersley at Warren Central and Goodson at Vicksburg High. They both earned Vicksburg Post Player of the Year honors as seniors. They both put up phenomenal numbers earning scholarships to two of the best baseball playing schools in the Southeast.

This afternoon, they’ll be at it again, albeit on a much bigger stage and with a lot more at stake.

“We feel good after the way we played last week,” Goodson said. “We know we need a couple of wins to go onto the regionals, so hopefully we can string a couple together.”

Tankersley’s Alabama Crimson Tide, the Southeastern Conference Western Division champions and No. 2 seed, play host to Goodson’s Mississippi State Bulldogs, the No. 7 seed at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium today at 1 p.m.

“That’s a good team that’s really hot right now coming off a sweep of Ole Miss,” Tankersley said. “We’ll definitely have to play well to beat them.”

The rivalry in high school had some quality moments, but because Tankersley was a junior during Goodson’s senior season, the two did not go head-to-head that often.

On April 2, 1999, Goodson struck out 14 batters and allowed three hits in a complete-game win, while Tankersley took the loss in relief.

On March 15, 2000, Tankersley pitched three innings to earn the win, while Goodson allowed five runs in four innings for the loss.

On March 29, 2000, Tankersley took the loss, but it was Goodson’s monumental home run that was estimated at nearly 500 feet off of Brian Pettway that stole the show.

“He can just hit,” Tankersley said.

The respect is mutual.

“He’s such a big part of their team,” Goodson said. “I don’t think they’d be where they are if it wasn’t for him.”

Goodson, who spent most of the early part of this season in the bullpen, has solidified himself in the designated hitter role for the Bulldogs as a sophomore.

He has seen action on the mound he’s appeared in 10 games with a 2.13 ERA but his hitting is one of the reasons the Bulldogs are where they are.

His five hits and five RBIs helped MSU sweep Ole Miss and earn a berth in the tournament.

He’s listed as a probable starter, but said Tuesday that he heard Tankersley could get the opening start.

“I don’t know if I’ll get to face him,” Goodson said, referring to the lefty-lefty matchup. “But I’ve seen him more than anyone else on our team.”

Tankersley shot onto the scene in his first season with the No. 12 Crimson Tide. His seven wins are one shy of the school record.

“He’s had an outstanding year and we wouldn’t have made it this far without him,” Alabama coach Jim Wells said. “He’s a guy we trust with the ball and that’s unusual for someone so young.

“He has an extreme confidence and has been a lifesaver for us.”

Alabama (44-12), which reached the No. 2 national ranking earlier this season, enters the tournament riding a three-game losing streak all to LSU.

We’ve got to hit the baseball,” said Tankersley, who was one of 16 freshmen and sophomores chosen to try out for the USA Baseball team in August. “The pitching’s been there all year, we just have to get the bats swinging.”

All Mississippi State wants is to keep the momentum from last week’s Ole Miss sweep going. The Bulldogs (33-22-1) scored at least 10 runs in each of their wins that secured the tournament berth.

“The last few weeks we hadn’t played that well,” Mississippi State coach Ron Polk said. “But against Ole Miss, we swung the bats really well and caught on at the right time.”

The winner of the Tide-Bulldogs game will face the winner of the 10 a.m. Georgia-Florida game on Thursday at 8 p.m. The loser will play the Georgia-Florida loser also on Thursday at 10 a.m.

“It’s huge to get off on the right foot,” Tankersley said. “You get to play at night on the second day and avoid the heat. That’s an advantage.”

On the other half of the bracket, No. 5 seed Auburn will play No. 4 seed LSU at 5 p.m. and top-seeded South Carolina will meet No. 8 seed Arkansas at 8 tonight.

Last season, the SEC sent eight teams to the regionals and Polk thinks that eight should go this year.

“I think every team that makes it to the SEC Tournament should get a berth,” Polk said. “For us, I really feel like we need to win one or two, but it’s tough to figure out.”

The regional site selections, unlike previous years, won’t be announced until Monday when all of the conference tournaments have ended.

“We think we need at least two (wins), definitely not one or none,” Goodson said of MSU’s chances at making a regional.