Hogs Look Forward To MSU Rematch

FAYETTEVILLE -- Mississippi State caught Arkansas at one of its lowest points last season, but that certainly isn't the case when the teams hook up at 6:35 p.m. today for the first of a three-game series in Baum Stadium.

The No. 8 Razorbacks are off to one of the best starts in school history with 20 wins in their first 22 games. They opened Southeastern Conference play by winning two of three games at then-No. 4 South Carolina last weekend and look to continue rolling against the No. 24 Bulldogs (15-3, 2-1).

"I think we don't need to change a whole lot," said Hogs freshman Clint Arnold, who was 7 for 9 during a two-game sweep at Centenary this week. "We just need to stay aggressive, stay focused and stay relaxed. If we keep playing the way we're playing, we'll be OK."

Last season, Arkansas was in the midst of tight battle for the Southeastern Conference title when it ran into Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss.

"That was a tough, tough place to play last year," said Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn. "At the time we were a little tired. We weren't swinging the bats and we weren't playing that good.

"We're feeling a lot better right now than we were last year going into this series."

And even though the Razorbacks lost two of three game during last year's series, they won some much-needed momentum heading into the final series of the regular season finale against Auburn with a 4-2 win against the Bulldogs in the final game of the series.

"They're one out away from beating us and we ended up winning that game and that's what really gave us a chance to win the conference," Van Horn said.

Without that win, the Hogs wouldn't have won a share of the SEC overall title with a 19-11 record. Hogs senior Casey Rowlett said it was during that taxing trip to Starkville in which the team got its second wind before its remarkable run to the College Word Series.

"We found a way to win in that third game and even though we came out losing the series, we came out with something positive," Rowlett said. "We kept battling and kept battling and that kind of took us into the postseason on a positive note.

"The championship was on the line and it was ours to lose, but we got it done."

Rowlett said since it was one of only two SEC series the Razorbacks lost last season, it should give them plenty of incentive against the Bulldogs this weekend.

"It's going to be a very good series," Rowlett said. "We're all looking forward to it. I wouldn't call it pay back, but we would like to win the first one (today) and take it from there."

Today, Arkansas will start freshman left-hander Nick Schmidt (4-0, 2.20) against Mississippi State right-hander Alan Johnson (1-2, 4.70). The Hogs will go with right-hander Shaun Seibert, another freshman, on Saturday.

Schmidt and Seibert were stellar in their last outings to beat South Carolina and both are among the league leaders in several categories.

Opponents are hitting .194 against Schmidt (12th in the SEC) and a measly .144 against Seibert (2nd). Seibert's ERA of 1.03 is third in the league and he's given up just 12 hits, which is the second lowest total allowed by any SEC pitcher.

"I think our young pitchers grew up mentally last weekend," Van Horn said. "Them being freshman, that's not going to be the issue any more. It's going to be more about just being consistent on the mound.

"Our pitching should be fine and I think the key for us is to go out and swing the bats pretty well this weekend and just really play solid defense because we have in the last six or seven games."

Mississippi State won two of three games against Vanderbilt last weekend and is coming off a two-game sweep of New Orleans this week.

During Wednesday's doubleheader against UNO, the Bulldogs put up four runs in the fifth inning to win the opener 8-4 and scored all its runs in two innings during an 8-4 win in the nightcap.

"The top four hitters had six hits," said MSU coach Ron Polk. "Again, we had two big innings. I like the big inning capabilities of this ballclub. We have done a good job of putting things together."

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