Diamond Dogs Open SEC West Series at LSU Friday

BATON ROUGE, La. - After splitting a midweek series at home with the University of New Orleans, Mississippi State (13-8-1, 3-3 SEC) returns to Southeastern Conference action in Baton Rouge this weekend against Western Division rival Louisiana State (16-11, 2-4 SEC). The three-game series opens Friday at 6:30 p.m. at LSU's Aelx Box Stadium.

MSU will face a Skip Bertman-less LSU team for the first time in 18 years.

"It is going to be strange competing against LSU without Skip being in the dugout,"said MSU coach Ron Polk. "I'm sure he will be there somewhere either at the stadium or in his airplane flying over or helicopter, whatever he has got."

Sophomore lefty Paul Maholm (4-1, 2.52), with complete-game pitching performances in his first two conference starts this season, will take the hill as the Bulldogs' starting pitcher in the series-opener. LSU is hitting just .265 against left-handed pitchers this season. LSU will counter with junior right-hander Bo Pettit (2-3, 3.69). Teams are hitting .254 against Pettit. He has struck out 55 in 46.1 innings.

MS coach Ron Polk made note of Pettit's play this season. "I know that their Friday pitcher, Pettit, is very good," said Polk.

LSU is expected to start Lane Mestepey and Jake Tompkins on the mound Saturday and Sunday.

"Mestepey was their ace last year," said Polk. "Tompkins, the new junior college pitcher, is throwing well. We can't strike out eight, nine or ten times and expect to come out a winner against them. It is not going to be easy."

Sophomore rightfielder Steve Gendron (.375) paces the Bulldogs at the plate, while junior shortstop Matthew Maniscalco (.303) enters the series riding a season-best nine-game hitting streak.

Although they have a couple of players who are hitting the ball well - Wally Pontiff .389 and Sean Barker .351 - unlike LSU teams of the past, this LSU has not been hitting the ball well, hitting at a .289 clip as a team. They have also hit just 19 home runs and are fielding at a .951 percent. Pontiff leads them in home runs with 4.

"The problem they have is they have lost five one-run ball games," said Polk. "They have kicked the ball around a little bit. I just hope they will do it for us. They have a lot of new faces in the lineup. Generally, what happens when kids are new at this level, they struggle a little bit."

Although they are 2-4 in SEC play, LSU has not played that badly in the two series against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.

"They went up to Ole Miss and hung in there pretty good," said Polk. "If it wasn't for a grand slam Sunday, they may have won two out of three in Oxford."

MSU owns a 189-143-1 leads in its rivalry with LSU, including a 4-1 win over the Tigers in their last meeting, the championship game of the 2001 SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.

The series continues Saturday at 2 p.m. concludes Easter Sunday at 1 p.m.

The games can be heard on the statewide MSU Baseball Radio Network.

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