No. 12 MSU Faces No. 21 Southern Miss

STARKVILLE, Miss. - Mississippi State (28-9-1, 11-6 SEC) faces its stiffest nonconference challenge of the year Tuesday night as the 12th-ranked Bulldogs open a two-game set with No. 21 Southern Miss (30-10) at Dudy Noble Field. Game time both Tuesday and Wednesday is set for 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday's game features a pitching battle between a pair of former Hattiesburg High School teammates, MSU junior righty Jeff Lacher and USM sophomore right-hander Cliff Russum. Lacher will be making his sixth start and nine appearance overall.

Russum, who is 5-4 with a 3.38 ERA in 58.2 innings pitched, has struck out 59 batters, while walking 27. Opponents are hitting .170 against him. In his last outing against New Orleans last Tuesday, he pitched seven innings, giving up two runs on six hits, walking three and striking out three.

Lacher, who is 4-0 with a 4.22 ERA in 32.0 innings pitched, has struck out 31, while walking 8. Opponents are hitting .258 against him. In his last outing, he pitched four innings in a 21-6 win over Mississippi Valley State, giving up five runs on six hits and striking out three.

The Golden Eagles are hitting .323 with 91 doubles, 10 triples and 53 home runs. Sophomore outfielder Clint King is leading the Golden Eagles, hitting .411 with 14 home runs and 45 RBIs. Senior outfielder Jeff Cook is second on the team with a .370 batting average. He has hit a team-high 16 home runs, 53 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. Sophomore outfielder Jason Lowery is hitting .350 with two home runs and 19 RBIs. Sophomore catcher Brad Willcutt is hitting .338 with seven home runs and 36 RBIs.

The Bulldogs are hitting .311 with 77 doubles, 13 triples and 37 home runs. They have stolen 42-of-49 bases. Junior third baseman Steve Gendron leads the Bulldogs with a .354 batting average with one home run and 21 RBIs. Senior shortstop Matthew Maniscalco is hitting .340 with six home runs and 25 RBIs. Freshman outfielder Brad Corley is hitting .333 with one home run and 23 RBIs. Senior first baseman Matthew Brinson is hitting .329 with six home runs and 29 RBIs.

The Bulldogs are 17-5-1 at home, while the Golden Eagles are 11-4 on the road.

The Bulldogs, who travel to Florida for a key three-game SEC series this weekend, enter the week two wins away from nailing down an SEC-leading 20th consecutive 30-win campaign. After dropping a pair of hard-fought one-run battles, State claimed a one-run win at South Carolina in the final game of the series. The pitching-dominated series saw the Bulldogs and the defending SEC champions score a combined 13 runs in three games, with MSU pitchers compiling a 1.80 earned run average.

Southern Miss reached the 30-win mark over the weekend by sweeping a three-game series at Memphis. The sweep improved USM's Conference USA-leading league record to 14-4 with four weekend to play.

After a seven-week run, Mississippi State has slipped from its top 10 ranking. MSU enters the week ranked 12th by Baseball America, the Sports Weekly/ ESPN coaches poll, the NCBWA writers poll, and 13th by Collegiate Baseball. MSU, eighth in last week's Baseball America ranking, climbed to as high as fifth earlier this season, its highest national ranking since 1993.

MSU and USM are squaring off on the diamond for the 95th and 96th times with this week's meetings at Dudy Noble Field. MSU has won seven of its last 10 against USM and owns a 65-29 overall lead in a series that dates back to 1947. The schools have split their two-game sets the last three seasons. State won last year's series-opener 19-2 in Hattiesburg while USM claimed the finale 6-3. MSU holds a 38-10 edge in games played in Starkville, and Bulldog skipper Ron Polk is 44-16 in 60 career meetings with Southern Miss.

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