Postseason Hopes at Stake for MSU

STARKVILLE, Miss. --- With postseason possibilities resting in the balance, Mississippi State (36-15-1,15-11 SEC) wraps up its 2003 regular season slate this weekend, hosting a familiar opponent, long-time SEC West rival Alabama (32-20, 13-14 SEC). The three-game set at Dudy Noble Field opens Friday at 6:30 p.m. The series continues Saturday at 2 p.m. and concludes with a 1:30 p.m. game Sunday.

The placement of both teams in next week's SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., will be settled on this the final weekend in league competition with the series at Dudy Noble Field and at Fayetteville (LSU at Arkansas), Auburn (Mississippi at Auburn), Nashville (Tennessee at Vanderbilt), Gainesville (Kentucky at Florida) and Columbia (Georgia at South Carolina).

Mississippi State, fourth in the SEC West and fifth in the league's overall standings, has clinched a berth in the double-elimination, two-bracketed SEC Tournament. Depending on the outcomes of other league games, the Bulldogs could claim the SEC title and be seeded as high as first or as low as eighth. Alabama, in a three-way tie for sixth place in the overall league standings, is in a five-way battle for the final three available tournament berths.

Both MSU and Alabama are also vying for berths in the 64-team field of the NCAA Tournament, set to begin at 16 regional sites May 30. The 16 regional hosts will be announced by the NCAA May 25 and the complete tournament field revealed May 26.

Junior left-hander Paul Maholm (7-2, 2.28) will make his 13th start of the season for the Bulldogs while Alabama has designated sophomore lefty Taylor Tankersly (6-4, 5.03) as its Friday starter.

State, ranked 17th this week in the Sports Weekly/ESPN coaches poll, played two of its three scheduled midweek games, riding the career-best pitching of senior Jacob Blakeney (8.0 IP, six strikeouts) to a 13-2 win over Southeastern Louisiana. And in the nightcap of the rare day/night double-dip at the Dude, MSU handed Big South Conference-leading Winthrop a 9-3 loss. State pounded out 28 hits in the Tuesday twinbill, led by third baseman Steve Gendron (5x7, 4 RBI) and Jeff Butts (6x9, 3 doubles, 3 RBI). The Bulldog defense matched a school record by turning five double plays against the SEL Lions.

The MSU-Alabama baseball series is the second-oldest of State's active baseball rivalries, dating back to 1896. The Crimson Tide leads the series 188-171-4 after claiming all four matchups last year (9-5, 9-7, 11-4 in Tuscaloosa and 12-2 at the SEC Tournament). The Bulldogs are looking for their 100th win over Alabama in Starkville, entering the weekend series with a 99-68-2 record in home games against the Crimson Tide.

Friday's ceremonial first pitch will be delivered by Ryozo Kato, Japan's ambassador to the United States. Ambassador Kato is on a three-day visit to Mississippi as a special guest of the Center for International Security and Strategic Studies at Mississippi State University.

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