Game time for this year’s edition has been moved back a half-hour, with a 6:30 start for ESNPU telecast. This is the second trip to Trustmark Park for the Bulldogs. Back on March 29 they beat-up on Southern Mississippi 13-5.
Speaking for the squad, 1B Nathaniel Lowe welcomes a return to Pearl. “I enjoyed it. I liked how everyone was packed-in there. And of course we sold it out against Southern. Everyone was up in there loud. And it’s exciting when we go to a neutral site and they play our stuff!”
That is because the Bulldogs are taking 2016’s turn as the home team for both appearances at Trustmark Park. So yes, State players will hear their personalized tunes.
Now, added Lowe, the goal is doing this time what the Diamond Dogs did already in the regular season. Four weekends ago the Rebels came to Dudy Noble Field, where the home team won the series. State clinched with 3-1 and 6-2 scores before Ole Miss salvaged a split Sunday 8-5.
So, “We’ve got some confidence going in, knowing that we’ve taken two of three,” Lowe said. “There’s a little bit of a relaxing factor. But at the same time we have to press because Ole Miss is a very solid team.”
Because the Governors Cup game does not count in conference standings it’s a different deal all around. Neither team intends to over-work arms which will be needed for the approaching SEC weekend. It’s a real challenge since Mississippi State will be at Alabama beginning Thursday, too.
Coach John Cohen has booked RHP Ryan Cyr (1-0, 0.00) to make his first college start in this Cup contest. The Rebels are taking a different tack, due to recent rotation adjustments of their own. They have moved their usual midweek man into weekend duty, so State expects to see Chad Smith (3-3, 4.99). Regardless, Cohen said he wants to get two and perhaps three good innings from Cyr before giving several relievers an inning each for tune-up pitching.
“We’re going to see Smith, the guy that threw Saturday. So we understand what’s coming,” Lowe said. “But I knew him from before and he’s been a completely different pitcher, up and down so who knows what we’re going to get tomorrow.”
The stakes? Besides pride, obviously? Well, coming off their home sweep of Auburn the Rebels have climbed into a tie for second in the SEC Western Division. Tied with Mississippi State and LSU coincidentally enough, who just battled to a Baton Rouge split won by the Bulldogs.
And even if this won’t count towards the league finish the game has post-season potential. Mississippi State is increasingly forcing the conversation as a first-round NCAA Regional host based on series wins over Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Florida, and now LSU. They are 13th in the NCAA’s affiliated RPI standings, another factor in such projections.
But they don’t have anyone left on the regular schedule with a RPI above 41 this week…except for the Rebels. They are still #4. So a win on a neutral field would boost Bulldog status even higher. At the same time a loss would not do any real damage in either RPI or schedule strength terms, so in that sense State can be a bit relaxed about the matchup.
OK, they won’t be relaxed at all. “Everyone gets excited to Ole Miss,” Georgia native Lowe said. “It’s my first year but I still want to beat them.”
And, to do it away from home on this extended stretch of road trips. A week ago the Diamond Dogs were heading to Biloxi for a game, and win over, Louisiana-Monroe. From there it was onto Baton Rouge for a statement-weekend.
Now, they load up for Pearl; return home for a Wednesday workout, then head over to Tuscaloosa. Four towns, three states, eight games…everything keeps changing, right?
Not really, to Lowe.
“It’s still baseball. No matter where. It’s still the game.”