MSU-South Carolina Baseball Series Preview

Mississippi State and 3rd ranked South Carolina tangle in a three-game Southeastern Conference series this weekend at Mississippi State.

Weather - Friday, expect partly cloudy skies and temps in the high 70's at gametime with them falling into the high 60's by the end of the game. Saturday, look for partly cloudy skies with temps in the low 80's during the game. Sunday, look for mostly cloudy skies with a 10% chance for rain. Temps will be in the mid 80's.

Gametimes (CDT) - Friday 6:30 pm, Saturday 3:00 pm, Sunday 2:30 pm.

5-Year Series History - South Carolina leads the series 4-6 the last five years. The two teams didn't meet in 2004 and they only met in the SEC Tournament in 2005. Two of the series were played in Columbia, SC and one was played in Starkville, MS. South Carolina is 2-4 at home, while MSU has a 1-2 record on their home turf. MSU won the 1 game held at the SEC Tournament. Despite losing 6 of the 10 games played, MSU has outscored South Carolina 52-49. MSU has outscored South Carolina by 8, 1, 4 and 5 runs in their 4 victories, while South Carolina has outscored MSU by 2, 3, 1, 1, 6, 2 in their six wins.

Coaches - Ray Tanner's record is 473-203 during his 10+ years at South Carolina. His teams have won 40 or more games in 8 of the 10 full seasons. They have made it to 8 NCAA Tournaments and advanced to three College World Series. His teams are 41-20 in NCAA Tournaments (includes the CWS).

Ron Polk, during his last 10+ years at MSU, has a 399-231 record. His teams have won 40 or more games in 4 of the 10 full seasons. They have made it to 7 NCAA Tournaments and advanced to one College World Series. His teams are 14-15 in NCAA Tournaments (includes the CWS).

MSU Home/South Carolina Road Records - MSU is 9-1 at home, while South Carolina is 8-2 on the road.

Expected Pitching Rotations - South Carolina is expected to start junior right-handed pitcher Harris Honeycutt (5-0, 0.86 ERA) Friday, sophomore right-handed pitcher Mike Cisco (2-1, 3.13 ERA) on Saturday and freshman right-handed pitcher Blake Cooper (3-0, 0.00 ERA) on Sunday. Mississippi State will counter with sophomore right-handed pitcher Aaron Weatherford (3-0, 3.42 ERA), junior left-handed pitcher Justin Pigott (2-2, 5.52 ERA) and senior right-handed pitcher Josh Johnson (2-0, 6.75 ERA).

In his five outings this season, Honeycutt has thrown 5.0, 5.1, 7.0, 7.0 and 7.0 innings. He has given up no more than 4 hits in any one game. Of his 35 strikeouts, 20 were called strikeouts. In his last three outings - wins against E. Michigan, Clemson and LSU - he threw 21 innings, allowing 0 runs on 8 hits and 7 walks, while striking out 25. He has faced MSU once (last season), giving up 3 runs on 4 hits in 1 inning of work. His overall career record at South Carolina is a very impressive 13-0.

Mike Crisco has started 6 games, going 6.0, 6.0, 6.2, 6.2, 6.0 and 6.0 innings. In his last start, he faced LSU and gave up 4 runs on 7 hits in his 6-inning outing. During his career as a starting pitcher, he is much better at home than on the road. On the road, he has a 2-2 record and a 6.63 earned run average, while at home he has won 6 and lost 3 with a 3.00 earned run average. He faced MSU last season in a losing effort, allowing 6 runs (3 earned) on 8 hits and 1 walk in 7 innings of work. He struck out 5.

Blake Cooper is starting his third game of the season. So far, he has gone 5.0 and 5.2 innings in starts against Brown and LSU giving up a total of 1 run (unearned) on 7 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 10. Not bad numbers, although you have to take into consideration that Brown is hitting .251 and LSU .238 as a team. Plus, he has not started a game on the road this season.

For MSU, Weatherford has started 4 games against Murray State, Troy, Winthrop and Florida, going 6.0, 7.0, 7.0 and 6.1 innings, allowing 2, 1, 3 and 8 runs. In his last outing, which was at Florida, 4 of the 8 runs were earned. His starting home record this season is 2-0 with an earned run average of 2.08. In his only appearance against South Carolina, which was last season, he started the game, giving up 6 runs (all earned) in 2.2 innings.

Pigott, after a great sophomore season that saw him go 7-1 with a 1.66 earned run average, has been roughed up this season. In his 4 starts he has given up 1, 4, 6 and 8 runs in 7.0, 8.0, 7.2 and 7.0 innings. All but one of the runs have been earned. Last season he faced South Carolina for the only time in his career, giving up 3 runs (all earned) in 6.1 innings. In Pigott's favor is the fact that he fares much better at home than on the road. In his two home outings this season, he has a 1-1 record and given up 2.40 earned runs per game. If you include last season, he has started a total of 4 games at home, going 3-1 with a 1.36 earned run average. His victories as a stater have been against Florida and Ole Miss last year and Murray State this season. His lone loss was to Michigan earlier in the year.

Johnson has started 4 games this season and has been inconsistent, allowing 4, 1, 1 and 9 runs in 3.0, 4.0, 8.0 and 4.0 innings. He has faced South Carolina only once during his career (last season) giving up a home run to the one batter that he faced.

Relief Pitching - Look for South Carolina to go to four, maybe five, pitchers when a reliever is needed - sophomore left-hander Will Atwood (10 A, 1-0, 2.08, 0 saves), junior right-hander Curtis Johnson (9 A, 0-1, 4.82, 1 S), junior right-hander Wynn Pelzer (9 A, 1-1, 1.98, 1 S) and junior right-hander Jordan Costner (9 A, 2-0, 0.96, 0 S). Although he hasn't faced any of the bigger named teams that they've faced this season, because he is a left-hander, South Carolina may also go to sophomore Alex Farotto (4 A, 1-0, 0.00, 0 S) if MSU's lineup is loaded with lefthanded batters.

Because MSU will probably load their lineup with left-handers, don't be surprised if Atwood is called on to pitch in a couple of games this weekend. Atwood, who was primarily a starter last season, has been the relief ace for South Carolina this season. He is more likely to be called in for middle relief duties if one of the starters doesn't have his stuff. He could also be called on to finish the last two innings of a game.

Costner will probably be called on, but don't expect him to pitch more than an inning. In 7 of his 9 relief appearances he has pitched 1 or less innings. Against Clemson he threw 1 shutout inning, but was ineffective against LSU last weekend to the tune of 1 run on 2 hits and 2 walks in 1 inning of work. Other than his one inning against Clemson, his best outings have been against the likes of E. Michigan, Liberty, Brown and Wofford.

After starting last season, Pelzer has been moved to the bullpen this year. Although his numbers are good, in games against Clemson and LSU, he has given up 3 runs (1 earned) on 5 hits and 1 walk in 3.1 innings of work. He struck out 4. He has faced MSU twice, once as a starter. In his start, he allowed 2 runs on 5 hits in 8.1 innings.

Johnson pitched in two games against LSU last weekend and allowed 3 runs (all earned) on 1 hit and two walks in 3 innings. The one hit was a home run. He struck out 6.

If South Carolina needs a pitcher to come in in a situation where a strikeout is needed against a lefthanded hitter, don't be surprised if they bring in Farotto. Although it was against the likes of Brown, Appalachian State and UNC Asheville, striking out 11 in 6.1 innings and allowing just one hit is still impressive. Another advantage he has is he faced MSU twice last season, allowing no runs on 1 hit and no walks in 1.1 innings. He struck out 3.

MSU is likely to use junior left-hander Mitch Moreland (5 A, 1-0, 0.00, 1 S), junior right-hander John Lalor (6 A, 1-0, 4.60, 1 S), sophomore right-hander Chad Crosswhite (7 A, 2-1, 3.00, 2 S), redshirt freshman Ricky Bowen (8 A, 1-0, 3.72, 2 S) and possibly true freshman right-hander Greg Houston (6 A, 0-0, 3.52, 1 S) in relief.

Look for Moreland to come in if it's a one inning type closer situation. In his 5 appearances, he has thrown one inning each, striking out 10 while giving up no runs on 1 hit and 1 walk.

Lalor will be the first guy called on if middle relief duty is required. After two rough outings to start the season (8 runs in 5.1 innings), he has only given up 1 run in 10.1 innings of relief.

Crosswhite could be used either as a closer or a middle reliever. After starting the season off with a bang (0 runs in 4.1 innings) he has struggled of late, giving up 12 runs (5 earned) in 10.2 innings.

Bowen, as you would expect from a first-year player, has been up and down this season. In his first five outings, he gave up no runs on 2 hits in 6.2 innings. When the team went on the road, he struggled, giving up 4 runs (all earned) in 2 innings of work against Dallas Baptist and Florida. His last outing, this past Wednesday against Samford, saw him throw one shutout inning. His role, if he is called upon, should be as a closer.

Houston has been the bullpen surprise. Although he's been inconsistent of late, giving up 6 runs (3 earned) in 4.2 innings during his last three outings, he showed his effectiveness early on with 3 shutout innings against Murray State, Mississippi Valley State and Michigan. His most impressive outing was probably on the road when he shut down Baylor to the tune of 1 hit and 3 strikeouts in 1.2 innings to earn a save.

Hitting - South Carolina is led at the plate by Trent Kline who is hitting .385 (12th in the SEC) with 3 home runs and 22 RBI. Harley Lail is also hitting .385, but in a limited number of at-bats. He also has 3 home runs and has knocked in 10 runs. James Darnell is hitting .328 with 6 homers and 20 RBI. Justin Smoak, who is hitting .322, leads the team in home runs and RBI with 7 and 28. Darnell and Smoak also get on base by the walk more than you would think power hitters should, walking 20 and 18 times so far this season. Andrew Crisp and Phil Disher round out the regulars who are hitting better than .300, hitting .311 and .301 with 1 home run and 11 RBI and 4 home runs and 19 RBI.

Mississippi State, as well as the SEC, is led by Edward Easley's .493 batting average. He's also hit 6 home runs (4th in the SEC) and knocked in 26 runs (7th in the SEC). Redshirt freshman Brandon Turner is next with a .412 batting average (4th in the SEC) and 15 RBI. Jeffrey Rea is also over the .400 mark, hitting .403 with 10 RBI. His average places him 6th in the SEC. Just a shade under them is Mitch Moreland, who is hitting at a .397 clip (9th in the SEC) with 2 homers and 20 RBI. Brian LaNinfa (.361-0-20), true freshman Connor Powers (.353-5-15), sophomore Mark Goforth (.351-0-5) and sophomore Jeff Flagg (.304-3-12) round out the players batting over .300. In a limited number of at-bats, Joseph McCaskill, who has been starting of late, is hitting .419 with 6 RBI.

Who's Hot at the Plate and Who's Not in the Last 5 Games - For MSU, Jeffrey Rea is sizzling hot the last five games, hitting at a .542 clip (13-for-24) with 5 RBI. Not far behind is Connor Powers who hit .476 (10-for-21) with 9 RBI. Edward Easley also hit over the .400 mark, hitting .450 (9-for-20) with 9 RBI. Brandon Turner rounds out the .400 hitters with a .400 average (8-for-20). Just off the pace was Mark Goforth who hit .381 (8-for-21) with 5 RBI. Although he didn't hit for a high average, Mitch Moreland knocked in 10 runs while batting .227.

For South Carolina, Trent Kline leads the way, hitting .550 (11-for-20) with 7 RBI in the last five games. James Darnell is a distant second, hitting .316 (6-for-19) with 6 RBI. Justin Smoak and Harley Lail are both batting exactly .300 with 3 and 7 RBI.

How South Carolina and MSU Match Up
South Carolina Category Mississippi State
19-3 Record 13-4
.303 (7th in SEC) Batting Average .374 (1st in SEC)
188 (8.5 pg) Runs 158 (9.3 pg)
36 Home Runs 17
.523 Slugging % .529
20/24 Stolen Bases/Attempts 17/26
115 (5.2 pg) Walks 59 (3.5 pg)
121 (5.5 pg) Strikeouts 91 (5.4 pg)
179 (8.1 pg) LOB 130 (7.9 pg)
2.26 (1st in SEC) Team ERA 5.33 (12th in SEC)
2 Saves 7
64 (2.9 pg) Walks 46 (2.7 pg)
217 (9.9 pg) Strikeouts 140 (8.2 pg)
.206 Batting Average Against .295
.982 (1st in SEC) Fielding % .968 (4th in SEC)
15 Errors 21

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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