The teams with the eight highest SEC winning percentages advance to the double-elimination SEC Tournament (Mar. 26-30) at the Hoover Met near Birmingham.
Neither MSU nor Georgia played during the midweek and both are coming off weekend series sweeps. State endured a season-first SEC series sweep at Vanderbilt (7-2, 5-1, 5-4 [10 inn.]), while Georgia extended its SEC-leading win streak to nine games (seven in SEC play) with a 3-0 showing at home against Kentucky (5-3, 7-2, 5-1).
Junior right-hander Alan Johnson (3-2, 5.54) toes the rubber for his 10th start for State in Friday's series-opener. The Pleasant Grove, Ala., product picked up wins in two of his last three starts, topping Florida in his last appearance at Dudy Noble Field (Apr. 16) and earning the win in MSU's series-opener at Auburn (Apr. 23). He allowed a season-high 10 hits and was charged with six runs (four earned) in his last start, a seven-inning stint won by Vanderbilt 7-2.
Georgia will counter with junior righty Sean Ruthven (4-1, 3.58). Ruthven, making his ninth start and 13th appearance overall, leads Georgia with 54 strikeouts. He has earned wins this season against Alabama, Florida and Mississippi and worked 4-1/3 innings in a no-decision start last weekend against Kentucky.
Sophomore right fielder Brad Corley paces Mississippi State at the plate with a .351 batting average. The Louisville, Ky., native ended an impressive SEC-leading 19-game hitting streak last weekend at Vanderbilt. He currently leads the Southeastern Conference with 15 home runs and paces the club with 45 RBI. Sophomore catcher Craig Tatum (.330, 9 HR, 45 RBI) has hit home runs in three of his last four games and hit at a team-best .462 clip last weekend at Vanderbilt.
Following the Georgia series, Mississippi State wraps up its 2004 nonconference schedule at home May 12 against Louisiana Tech (6:30 p.m.). MSU then closes out its '04 home schedule May 14-16 against divisional rival and conference-leading Arkansas and the regular-season slate at Alabama May 21-23.
BUSY SATURDAY FOR DIAMOND DOG DUO
Saturday stands to be a busier than usual game day for Mississippi State senior pitcher Jeff Lacher of Hattiesburg, Miss., and senior manager Stan Mills of Lucedale, Miss. A matter of hours before Saturday's 4 p.m. MSU-Georgia game the duo will don caps and gowns for 10 a.m. graduation ceremonies in nearby Humphrey Coliseum. Lacher, typically State's Sunday starter, will start Saturday's game.
REA LEADS SEC ROOKIES IN HITS
Mississippi State freshman second baseman Jeffrey Rea has piled up the most hits by a freshman in the Southeastern Conference this season. The Nettleton, Miss., product has totaled 61 hits (11 doubles, two triples and a home run) and sports a .330 batting average.
Rea will be battling two of the SEC's other top-hitting freshmen this weekend, Georgia's Joey Side (57 hits) and Josh Morris (53 hits, 14 home runs).
SEC FRESHMAN HITS LEADERS