In his first season at the helm of the Bulldogs, Coach John Cohen is looking to bring some of the magic he brought to Kentucky when he turned the Wildcats from perennial SEC doormat into champions. While this season's Mississippi State team isn't loaded, it is a very capable team that has a solid starting rotation, some key hitters, and plenty of speed on the base paths.
"Mississippi State will be the second conference team in a row that we've faced that does a lot of things right," Pawlowski said. "With Vanderbilt they can really run the bases and with Mississippi State there is no difference. They are very productive creating runs offensively and can run the bases. They are a team that will certainly provide a great challenge for our club as we try to get better."
Hitting .289 as a team, Mississippi State is led by veterans Jet Butler and Russ Sneed. In 24 starts, Butler is hitting .367 with two home runs and 23 RBI. Also starting 24 games, Sneed is just behind him at .349, three homers and 20 runs batted in. The power is supplied by fittingly enough Conner Powers with a team-leading five home runs.
The key for the Bulldogs may be on the bases as they have stolen 42 bases this season with Grant Hogue a perfect 17-17. Not a team loaded with power, Mississippi State has hit just 20 home runs in 28 games this season, but nullify that with a starting one-two punch on the mound.
Much like they've seen all season, Auburn's predominantly left-handed lineup will face at least two lefty starters from the Bulldogs this weekend as junior Tyler Whitney (2-2, 3.81 ERA) gets the call on Friday and freshman Nick Rouitt (3-1, 2.79) is scheduled to be the Saturday starter. Pawlowski said he's come to expect nothing less when his team takes the field.
"It's really no surprise to us," Pawlowski said. "Every time we get the rotation I know there is going to be left-handers in there. I think we'll see a lefty Friday and a lefty Saturday. Sunday they have TBA, but the guy they threw against Louisiana-Monroe (Forrest Moore) pitched very well. He had 11 strikeouts. It wouldn't surprise me to see him in there on Sunday. I think with all of our left-handed bats a lot of people think that's the best way to go about pitching against us. It certainly will be no different this weekend."
Auburn will counter on the mound with sophomore Grant Dayton on Friday night, freshman Jon Luke Jacobs on Saturday, and junior Taylor Thompson on Sunday. Dayton enters the weekend just 2-3 overall, but with a very solid 3.18 ERA in six starts. In SEC play he has allowed just seven earned runs in 22 innings and struck out 22. A perfect 3-0 on the year, Jacobs has an ERA of 4.78, but was very good in his last outing as he earned the win against Vanderbilt. In six and two/thirds innings he gave up just three earned runs and struck out six.
The wildcard for Auburn is Thompson. Coming back from elbow surgery, Thompson's last two appearances, both starts, have been wins. He has pitched five innings in both outings, allowing five total runs.
At the plate Trent Mummey leads the way for the Tigers, hitting .371 with 11 home runs, nine doubles, 29 RBI, and 44 runs scored, but he has struggled of late with just three hits in his last 18 at-bats. Justin Hargett (.333), Ben Jones (.330, 5 HR, 26 RBI), Joseph Sanders (.312, 11, 37) and Tony Caldwell (.310, 4, 12) are all hitting over .300 for the Tigers this season.
The biggest surprise has been Caldwell. Struggling early in the season at the plate, Caldwell has been on fire recently. In his last five games the sophomore is 11-19 with a home run, a double, six RBI and seven runs scored.
Another player coming on is sophomore Hunter Morris. He finished off the Vanderbilt series by going 3-4 and hitting his sixth home run in Sunday's win. With his batting average up to .253 overall, Morris is hitting .314 in league play with three of his home runs coming in those nine games.
"I think it's very important for our team," Pawlowski said. "We talked about Hunter Morris and Kevin Patterson being guys that are going to come around at some point. Hunter has had some good at-bats as has Kevin Patterson. Hunter has been bothered by that bad back. I don't think he was necessarily 100 percent. I think he's getting healthier. It just seems like the bigger the at-bat, the more he's locked in and tuned in…it's nice to have him in there. We certainly we need to have him in there in order to do what we want to do."
Game times for the weekend series are 6:30 p.m. on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. There is no TV coverage for the series.