MSU and Tennessee meet this weekend

STARKVILLE, Miss. - Mississippi State launches Southeastern Conference baseball competition this weekend at Dudy Noble Field when the 21st-ranked Bulldogs entertain 19th-ranked Tennessee of the SEC Eastern Division in a three-game series. The Bulldogs (12-2) and the Volunteers (17-2) open the series Friday at 6:30 p.m. Saturday's game is set for 2 p.m. and the series wraps up Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Both teams were picked by the SEC coaches for fifth-place divisional finishes this season.

MSU opened the year with a nine-game win streak and claimed a pair of midweek wins in its first road competition of the season. State registered a two-hit shutout in a 7-0 win over Louisiana Tech Tuesday and then used a four-run 12th-inning burst Wednesday night to turn back Louisiana-Monroe 7-3 for a sweep of the Entergy Louisiana Series at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson.

The Vols, meanwhile, topped Lipscomb 14-4 Tuesday night to extend their current win streak to 13 games. UT's lone losses came last month during a three-game series at then-third ranked Miami.

State will open on the mound with sophomore righthander Jamie Gant (2-1, 1.89) of Winona, Miss., while UT has tabbed senior southpaw Derek Tharpe (4-0, 1.72) for starting duty.

Mississippi State enjoyed a successful run as the designated visiting team this week at the Entergy Louisiana Series. The Bulldogs piled up 17 hits, second-most this season, and got a combined two-hitter from starter Eric Ebers (2-0) and relief man Brett Cleveland Tuesday night in posting the team's third shutout of the year. Ebers and Cleveland combined for 13 strikeouts.

Strikeouts were the order of the evening at Smith-Wills Stadium Wednesday when MSU and ULM pitchers combined for 35 whiffs, a season-high 18 by a foursome of Bulldog hurlers. Starter Josh Johnson fanned a season-high seven, while Saunders Ramsey, who tossed five innings of one-hit relief, struck out a career-high six and earned his second win. The Starkville, Miss., native has two wins and two saves 15 strikeouts in his last 11-1/3 innings over his last four outings.

Senior Tyler Scarbrough singled in two runs to give MSU a 3-2 lead and doubled in the go-ahead run in the 12th inning of State's extra-inning win over the Louisiana-Monroe Indians. State's first extra-inning affair was also its longest (3:43 minutes) and was played in front of a season-largest crowd of 3,643.

Mississippi State holds a 37-17 series lead over Tennessee and has won seven of the series' last eight games. The two teams have not met on the diamond since the 2001 season when MSU claimed two of three games played in Knoxville. Bulldog skipper Ron Polk, in his 25th season at Mississippi State, is 23-10 in coaching matchups with Tennessee.

Sophomore catcher Craig Tatum, named this week to the watch list for the 2004 Johnny Bench Award, leads State at the plate with a .404 batting average. The Hattiesburg, Miss., product is on a seven-game hitting streak, MSU's longest active hitting streak. Sophomore rightfielder Brad Corley (.362) leads the club with 15 RBI, while senior shortstop Steve Gendron (.328) leads the club with eight extra-base hits, including a team-best six doubles. Gendron is the lone Bulldog with prior playing experience against Tennessee. Gendron his .385 and drove in four runs during MSU¹s 2-1 showing at UT's Lindsey Nelson Stadium in 2001.

First baseman Chris Kemp leads the Vols with a .396 batting average and 22 RBI. Fleet-footed center fielder Eli Iorg (.350) has stolen 12 bases in 16 tries, while center fielder Josh Alley (.328) leads the team with four home runs. Sophomore outfielder Michael Rivera (.387), honored as the SEC Player of the Week, is riding a team-high 10-game hitting streak.


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