Harding on stand-by as Mississippi State hosts Notre Dame

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Jun. 10—STARKVILLE — There may not be a bigger weekend than the one coming up for Mississippi State pitcher Houston Harding.

Harding, a senior left-hander, has become a staple for Mississippi State on Sundays in SEC play. He has both come out of the bullpen in relief and started, and his efforts could be desperately needed this weekend at Dudy Noble Field.

No. 7-national seed Mississippi State plays host to No. 10 Notre Dame this weekend in a super regional matchup. The best-of-three series will be played at 1 p.m. on Saturday, 5 p.m. on Sunday, and 6 p.m. on Monday, if necessary.

"We have a tough weekend coming up," head coach Chris Lemonis said. "There's not an easy super regional in the country and we feel like we have one of the hottest teams in the country coming in here."

Notre Dame is 33-11 this season and won the ACC regular season outright. The Fighting Irish lost in the ACC Tournament, which was likely the reason they dropped out of a Top 8 national seed.

And after dropping to No. 10 during the NCAA Tournament selection show, Notre Dame took out its frustrations on its regional opponents. Notre Dame swept its regional and outscored its opponents, 50-5, over three games with its closest game being a 10-0 win over Central Michigan.

If Harding (7-2, 2.34 ERA) does pitch this weekend, it will likely be in Monday's winner-take-all game.

Harding has been the first guy out of the bullpen following starter Jackson Fristoe's starts on Sunday, but as Fristoe has struggled late this season, Harding's outings have gotten longer and longer.

In his last two appearances, Harding entered in the third inning against Alabama and the first inning against Campbell. He pitched over five innings of relief each outing. Lemonis could use Harding as MSU's third starter, but said it determines on matchups.

"I have all the confidence in the world for him to run out there and start for us," Lemonis said. "I like him in the role he's in. He's that good, long guy and has pitched great in that role. Usually when we get him in the game and we have a chance to win, we win with him out there."

Harding is also comfortable with the position he is in.

He has started five games this year, going 2-2 during that stretch. Four of those five starts came in non-conference play, while he has a 5-0 record when coming out of the bullpen.

He earned wins against Auburn, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Alabama and Campbell out of the bullpen. In three of those appearances, he's pitched over five innings.

"I'm playing my role," Harding said. "I want to help the team win. I feel confident enough for sure to start any game or come out of the bullpen any game. I've gotten a good mix this year of both, so that's allowed me to settle in and do whatever they call me to do."

dalton.middleton@djournal.com