MSU and Ole Miss Hook Up This Weekend

Mississippi State and Ole Miss play a three-game SEC baseball series this coming weekend on the campus of Mississippi State. Both coaches talk about the upcoming series.

The Rebels of Ole Miss are 10-3 and ranked among the top teams in the nation, but they had a tough weekend series against TCU, their first road series of the year.

"We hit a little hiccup this past weekend against a very good TCU team over in Fort Worth," said Ole Miss head baseball coach Mike Bianco. "It was a tough place to play offensively, where the wind is blowing in and it's a very big field. Runs were tough to come by. We lost two one-run games Saturday and Sunday."

Mississippi State has had an even tougher time of it during the early goings, losing seven of their first twelve games, despite playing a not so tough early season schedule.

"We really didn't play a real tough schedule early other than Baylor, and we struggled against some very, very average ballclubs," said MSU head coach Ron Polk. "A lot of it is due to the lack of command of the pitching staff and lack of timely hitting. That's concerning, but, at the same time, we have to be aware that this is a work in progress due to this being a young, inexperienced ballclub.

"We knew going into this season that we would be young and inexperienced, especially positive player-wise. But we were hoping that our pitching would be solid enough until our new position players gained some valuable game experience. But we haven't pitched good enough as of yet. It's a matter of locating pitches. That's been our biggest problem this year. It seems like every time we walk a batter he scores."

And the MSU pitching staff, which has a 6.88 team earned run average, took a serious blow this past weekend with their closer, Aaron Weatherford, being held out of action due to a health factor.

"We are still without the services of our closer, Aaron Weatherford, due to shoulder tenderness," said Polk. "And possibly Aaron won't be available (this weekend). We'll look at him some more today and tomorrow."

His lost probably played a factor in at least one of the games against the then 11th-ranked Baylor Bears, a team that swept Mississippi State in a three-game series that was played Sunday and Monday at Mississippi State.

"(Aaron) would have been a factor against Baylor, especially in the one-run game we lost," said Polk. "We had to throw (Justin) Pigott 125 pitches instead of the 105 that we would have thrown him."

The weather also has factored into the pitching situation, especially for the upcoming series with Ole Miss.

"We would have gone with Pigott Friday, but we just can't do it. He threw 125 pitches Sunday," said Polk. "We will move him back to Saturday. We will put Ricky Bowen in the third spot. On Friday, it will either be Jesse Carver, a senior, or Forrest Moore, a freshman."

Polk feels either Carver or Moore will give State a chance for a win Friday night if they do one thing - locate their pitches.

"Both Carver and Moore have weapons and are lefthanders," he said. "It's just a matter of locating."

The normal Friday starter, Chad Crosswhite, has struggled during the early going and has been moved to a weekday starting spot.

"Chad Crosswhite, who has been struggling a little bit, will get the start Wednesday afternoon (against Mississippi Valley State) to see if we can get him untracked," said Polk, who will start juco transfer Lee Swindle in this afternoon's 4 o'clock game.

Despite the early struggles, Polk has seen some positives that should bode well for the near and distance future.

"(Baylor head coach) Steve Smith felt the same way; this is a very talented, athletic group of kids," said Polk. "I am very pleased with some of our younger players, some freshmen and some guys who haven't played very much, who have done very well offensively."

Guys like freshmen Cody Freeman (.421 batting average, 0 home runs, 2 RBI), Jason Nappi (.422-3-10) and Ryan Collins (.350-0-5) and first-time starter Grant Hogue (.444, 8 stolen bases), a redshirt junior outfielder.

Because of their play, Polk sees a bright future for his ballclub.

"I think this is a ballclub, down the line, hopefully this year, that I feel will be very good," he noted. "But I've been in the game forty years, thirty-one in the SEC and experience is so vital in this league.

"We just need to get some age. We lost pretty much the entire component of our offense last year in the draft with Edward Easley and Mitch Moreland, and with Brandon Turner down, and the loss of Brian LaNinfa, Jeffrey Rea, Joseph McCaskill. That was pretty much the heart and soul of our offense."

And Polk is using the 14 games prior to SEC play to find the new heart and soul of this team's offense, which is the reason 15 players (excluding the injured Brandon Turner) have played in more than half of the first 12 games this season.

"I told the ballclub these fourteen games would be used to see who is producing and who are the gamers," explained Polk. "The thing is we don't have much separation in position players. Behind the plate, there is some separation now with Cody Freeman stepping ahead of the other two catchers. In the infield, we don't have much depth right now. In the outfield we are log-jammed with a lot of kids who ave very, very talented youngsters. We are going to have to make some decisions now."

The final two games of the pre-SEC schedule will conclude with a two-game series with Mississippi Valley State that starts today at 4 pm and concludes Wednesday at the same start time.


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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