All things considered, Mississippi State will enter the weekend tilt on a roll, having posted four wins in its first three conference series against a trio of the league's four ranked squads. The Bulldogs are coming off a series victory - their first of the season - at Georgia in which the 'Dogs rallied in each of the last two games to post victories. Tennessee will roll into Starkville on the heels of a three-game conference losing streak, despite posting a pair of victories at Alabama State on Monday.
Mississippi State, which garnered a spot in the initial NCAA Central Region top 10 on Thursday afternoon, will bring a 7-5 series edge into the weekend, including victories in the last five meetings against the Orange and White. The Bulldogs swept series in each of the last two seasons, with its last loss against the Lady Vols coming in the form of a 4-2 setback in the second round of the 1999 SEC Tournament in Columbus, Ga.
However, the Lady Vols will bring a much different team into this season's meeting with first year co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly at the helm. Together, the duo has helped Tennessee become one of the toughest draws in the conference as evidenced by the Orange and White ranking in the top five of all three major statistical categories (hitting, pitching, fielding). Thus far, the Lady Vols have posted league-best marks in hits (328) and home runs (40), while posting the SEC's second-best RBI count (195).
Tennessee features a trio of players hitting above the .300 plateau, including catcher Adrianna Wilson, who leads the squad with 10 home runs and 39 RBIs on a .391 (54-138) batting clip. Tennessee also boasts the conference's strikeout leader in Stephanie Humphrey (20-9, 1.48 ERA), who has collected 251 strikeouts in 170 and one-thirds innings of work.
However, State will post dangers of its own. The Maroon and White boasts four hitters hitting above .300, including three-time all-American Kellie Wilkerson (.400, 6 HR, 16 RBI) who peaked above the .400 plateau with a standout series against Georgia. However, equally as dangerous is speedster Jennifer Nelson (.395, 13 R), who has found ways to get on base for team RBI leader Iyhia McMichael (.315, 3 HR, 5 3B, 27 RBI).
Mississippi State will likely send Kasey Whitehead (11-8, 2.55) into the circle in game one to face Humphrey, with game two's probable matchup being UT's Leigh Ann Ellis (8-3, 1.94) facing Melissa Massey (4-7, 1.83). Humphrey has been the pitcher of record in each of Tennessee's last six conference games, including starts in each game of the Lady Vols' three losses in Tuscaloosa.