State Faces Top-Ranked Tigers In Home Finale

Stopping a three-week skid is tough enough. Doing so against the top-ranked team in the country? That is the Diamond Dog deal as they prepare to host Louisiana State.

Mississippi State and LSU square off for their annual SEC West series, this year at Dudy Noble Field and this time starting a day early. The Bulldogs and Tigers are booked for the 6:30 Thursday slot with ESPNU telecast.

Friday is a 7:00 start, also on ESPNU; with a 3:00 start for Saturday. This also is the home-field finale for the 2015 Bulldogs as a team, and for eight upperclassmen in particular. Senior Dogs to be recognized are IF Matt Britton, RHP Trevor Fitts, IF Seth Heck, LHP Lucas Laster, LHP Ross Mitchell, 1B Wes Rea, OF Jake Vickerson, and C Cody Walker.

OF Cody Brown, said there’s the natural emotions about sending those seniors off on a winning note. But there is a larger issue to the weekend. “To keep our season going,” Brown said.

Beyond the regular season, he means. The Bulldogs are 23-22 overall and more to the point 7-14 SEC. That ties them for 12th in the current league standings, the last slot for the conference tournament. Mississippi State for now is even with Tennessee, who just happens to be the final regular-season foe with a series in Knoxville.

Maybe it will come down to that last weekend who goes on to Hoover. Or maybe the Bulldogs can put themselves in safer position in series with LSU and next week at Ole Miss. Either way, “You’re aware of where we’re at,” Brown said. “We know that, everyone knows that. But we have to take it game by game and get back in there.”

While Bulldog baseball is playing there will be some conflicts for fans. The National Football League draft begins Thursday evening as well at 7:00 with the first round. Defensive end Preston Smith is projected as an opening-round selection, and linebacker Benardrick McKinney could hear his name called Friday in the second or third rounds.

Meanwhile back on the Dudy Noble diamond… LSU arrives 38-7, 14-6 SEC. The Tigers are ranked first nationally but aren’t atop the current league standings, trailing 15-6 Vanderbilt. A Sunday rainout cost LSU an excellent shot at sweeping Georgia and might end up the margin of who is seeded first in the SEC Tournament. Nothing but a inconceivable collapse will keep them from national seed status when the NCAA Tournament field is set and sited.

The Tigers do lead the league in the category which counts, boasting a SEC-best .320 batting average for the season as a whole. Three Tigers are among the top-ten SEC hitters led by Kade Scivicque, third this week with his .380 average. Chris Chinea is 8th at .357 and Andrew Stepenson 10th at .355. By contrast the best Bulldog batter is CF Jacob Robson at .344, and the team is ninth at .272.

But it is on the mound where Mississippi State struggles worse, with the second-worst SEC ERA of 4.23. There is LSU at the other end, second-best with a 2.83 figure. The Tigers have set a rotation of lefty Jared Poche (7-1, 2.74), righty Alex Lange (7-0, 1.86), and righty Austin Bain (1-2, 2.83.)

Coach John Cohen confirmed he’ll stick with LHP Laster (4-3, 3.16) and RHP Preston Brown (5-5, 3.76) in the first two games. Saturday’s starter is not set though Cohen did say Wednesday it is likely RHP Austin Sexton (4-4, 3.77) gets the ball. The other option is LHP Vance Tatum (3-2, 4.25) who threw 40 Tuesday pitches in relief.

There are a couple of Dogs striking it well. DH Luke Reynolds went over three weeks without a hit or many ABs either; then given a chance at Arkansas was 4-of-4 on Sunday in State’s lone win. He followed with a 3-of-4 Tuesday and the only RBI.

“I just try to get my fastball and put a good swing on it,” Reynolds said. “I’ve been working hard on my swing and trying to get comfortable, make it simple and be direct to the ball. It’s been paying off a little bit.”

Until a hitless Tuesday, OF Jacob Robson was on a short tear going 8-of-14 in the Arkansas series. RF Jake Vickerson has been the steadiest swinger of April, now 8-of-31 in the last seven games. And State has to hope a three-game hitless stretch now for Rea is just a blip. Because, prior to this he had a six-game streak going with 13 hits in 19 official chances. That included a personal-record 5-of-5 Friday at Fayetteville with five RBI.

The Dogs have to muster all the offense possible, along with get good starting and much, much better relief work if they intend to compete with these Tigers. And, by extension, sustain the fragile hopes of playing in the SEC Tournament. Losing six of their seven league series has dug the Dogs into an unexpected hole, and taken an obvious toll on team confidence.

Cohen was particularly frustrated after Tuesday’s 11-1 rout by rival Ole Miss, a game that doesn’t count in the SEC but does very much matter in both program’s emotions. It was also the seventh loss in the last eight games. Asked how to change the results, Cohen made clear it doesn’t mean changing approach.

“The same thing everybody else in the league is going to do. We’re going to watch film, we’re going to hit, we’re going to throw bullpens. And we’ll find out who really wants to be wearing a Mississippi State uniform. Just like we do every single day.”

Or as Brown put it, “We just have to maintain focus and get back on track here, get back to our game.”

Mississippi State announced today that fans holding tickets from the cancelled February 17 game with Mississippi Valley State can exchange them for a general admission ticket to any of these three LSU games. The exchange is to be done at the ticket office, which opens two hours before first pitch. This only applies to presented original tickets to the Feb. 17 game, which will not be reprinted by MSU.

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