MSU-South Carolina Baseball Series Preview

Mississippi State and No. 11 South Carolina tangle in a three-game Southeastern Conference series this weekend at South Carolina.

Weather - Friday's temperatures should start out in the high-60's and go down into the low-60's by the end of the game. Northwest winds should range from 17 to 8 miles per hour. Chance of rain is zero.

Saturday's temps should be in the low 70's at gametime and dip into the mid-60's by the end of the game. Winds should be about 8 MPH and be from the east to southeast. No rain is expected

Sunday should see temps in the high-70's throughout the game. The winds should be from the west- southwest at about 14 miles per hour No rain is anticipated.

Gametimes (All are listed as Central Time) - Friday 6:00 p.m. | Saturday 3:00 p.m. | Sunday 12:30 p.m.

11-Year Series History - During the Ray Tanner era at South Carolina, MSU has won 18 and lost 16. MSU is 4-8 in games played at South Carolina.

Coaches - Ray Tanner, going into his 12th season at South Carolina, has an overall record of 500-220 coming into the season, including a record of 194-134 in SEC play. Nine of his eleven teams have made appearances in NCAA Regionals, seven have gone on to play in Super Regionals and three participated in the College World Series. His teams have an overall record of 45-22 in NCAA postseason play.

During his last eleven years, MSU head coach Ron Polk's teams (one year was with Georgia) are 426-251-2 overall and 165-155 in SEC play. His teams have appeared in eight NCAA Regionals, including two that went on to play in Super Regionals and three that participated in the College World Series. His teams are 25-19 in NCAA postseason play.

South Carolina Home/Mississippi State Road Records - South Carolina is 10-3 at home while MSU is 2-2 on the road.

Expected Pitching Rotations - Mississippi State's starting pitchers are expected to be senior LHP Jesse Carver (1-0, 7.50 ERA) Friday night, I'm guessing sophomore LHP Tyler Whitney (0.00, 15.00) on Saturday and sophomore RHP Ricky Bowen (2-2, 6.38 ERA) on Sunday.

South Carolina will counter with junior RHP Mike Cisco (3-0, 2.84 ERA) on Friday, junior LHP Will Atwood (1-0, 4.05) on Saturday and sophomore RHP Blake Cooper (2-2, 3.43) on Sunday.

Carver, who is replacing the injured Justin Pigott (out for 2 to 4 weeks), has started one game this season, a mid-week outing against UALR earlier in the season. He went 3 innings, allowing 1 run on 3 hits and 0 walks while striking out 3. His other three outings have all been in relief, although he replaced last week's Friday starter, Forrest Moore, against Ole Miss and went 7.1 innings, allowing 7 runs on 15 hits and 1 walk in addition to striking out 6. Although he gives up almost 2 hits per inning (IP 12, H 23), his control, a nemesis in the past, has been excellent so far this season as exhibited by his 1 walk.

Whitney, a mid-week starter last season and expected to be the same this season, has thrown only twice this season due to elbow tenderness, although he's healthy now. Both outings have been in relief. In his 3 innings of work he has given up 6 runs (5 earned) on 6 hits and 4 walks along with striking out 4. He's only thrown one inning in the last month and that was against UAB this past Tuesday night.

There's an outside chance that either junior RHP Chad Crosswhite (the normal Saturday starter who looks to be healthy now) or junior RHP Lee Swindle (2-0, 2.45) could start, although both threw a number of pitches this past Tuesday night and would be limited in the amount of time they could pitch.

Bowen, who won numerous honors this past week due to the two-hitter he threw against Ole Miss last weekend, has continues to improve in each of his outings. In the Ole Miss game, he had a no-hitter going with 2 outs and a 2-2 count on the batter in the top of the 9th innning before giving up a bouncer that barely eluded the glove of the third baseman. The second hit was an infield single. In his four performances, he has gone 4, 5, 6 and 9 innings, giving up 7, 5, 5 and 0 runs while striking out 1, 6, 7, and 11. In his 24 innings of work, he has given up 23 hits, 10 walks and struck out 25. His last two outings have been against Baylor and Ole Miss, both highly ranked in the polls. In those two games he threw 15 innings, giving up 5 runs (all earned) on 8 hits and 4 walks while striking out 18.

South Carolina's Mike Cisco has performed reasonably well this season, giving up no more than 2 runs in any outing other than one. In his one SEC performance he gave up 2 runs on 9 hits and 2 walks while striking out 2 in 6 innings against Vanderbilt. Although he's not a strikeout pitcher, he also doesn't walk many as shown by his 8 walks this season, 4 of which came in one game. If his first four appearances are an indication of what to expect, don't look for him to give up many runs his first three innings because he's only given up 1 run in those first three innings.

Atwood has worked himself back into the starting rotation, starting against Duquesne on March 8th and Vanderbilt last weekend. In his outing against Vandy he gave up 5 runs (all earned) on 8 hits and 4 walks while striking out 7 in 6.2 innings. He went 4 innings against Duquesne giving up 1 earned run.

Cooper has been up and down this season giving up 6, 1, 0, and 6 runs in his four appearances, three of which were against ranked teams. Errors have hurt him more than any other pitcher on the Gamecocks staff, with 5 of his 13 runs being unearned. Not known as a strikeout pitcher, he has struck out 12 in his 21 innings of work, but he has also shown excellent control, walking just 2 this season. In his last three outings, he has gone 6 inning in each. You'll know early on if he has his stuff because in the two outings when he gave up 12 runs, 7 of the runs were scored in the first three innings and 4 in the 4th inning.

Relief Pitching - Relief pitching is an area of concern for the Bulldogs due to the injury to closer Aaron Weatherford.

Due to the injury, senior RHP John Lalor, MSU's normal long reliever, has been moved to closer for the time being. Up until his last outing, which was against Ole Miss, Lalor has been very effective, allowing a total of 1 run over a span of 6.2 innings in 5 relief appearances. He struck out 11, walked 2 and allowed 5 hits in the five outings. Against Ole Miss, he gave up a total of 4 runs in 2 innings.

Greg Houston, a sophomore RHP, is the other veteran in the pen. Houston has appeared in six games this season, all in relief. In his appearances, he has given up 10 runs (8 earned) in 12.1 innings.

Look for true freshmen Forrest Moore, a LHP, and Michael Busby, a RHP, to figure prominently in relief roles this weekend after performing well against UAB Tuesday night.

Moore, who started the Friday game against Ole Miss last weekend, may be the first out of the bullpen if Friday night starter Jesse Carver isn't effective early on. Moore, however, has been most effective in short stints this season. In his four relief appearances - all 2 innings are less - he has given up 0 runs on 2 hits and 3 walks, while striking out 8 in a total of 4.2 innings. In contrast, during his three starts, he has given up 17 runs in 10.1 innings.

Busby has been used out of the pen more than any other pitcher on the staff. And as you would expect from a freshman, he has been inconsistent. In 12.1 innings, he has given up 9 runs (7 earned). All nine runs have been scored in four of seven outings. Control has been a problem in most of his appearances as evidenced by his 11 walks.

If either one doesn't start the Saturday game, it's possible Swindle and Crosswhite could be used in long relief, although both could be ticketed for mid-week starts against Memphis next week.

State also has junior LHP Jared Wesson available. Wesson, who didn't pitch last year due to shoulder surgery, has been bothered with control problems this season, walking 9 in 3.1 innings. The State coaches were hoping that he would be their lefthanded closer, but the walks have prevented that from happening.

As for South Carolina, they seem to have a relief by committee bullpen, although one relief pitcher appears to bear the brunt of the relief efforts during weekend games.

Long reliever/closer in close weekend games is senior RHP Curtis Johnson. The most effective of all of the relievers, Johnson has appeared in four games, going 6.2, 3, 4.1 and 5 innings. In his 19 innings of work, he has given up 3 runs (all earned) on 11 hits and 6 walks while striking out 15.

Redshirt freshman RHP Parker Bangs, in all of his outings, has been the first guy out of the pen if a starter is taken out early with a big lead in non-weekend games. It's possible he could see some action this weekend if South Carolina jumps out to a huge early lead in any of the three games. A strikeout pitcher (8 IP, 14 Ks), Bangs has only given up 1 run in his last 3 appearances, which span 6.2 innings.

The Gamecocks coaching staff have also used senior RHP Sean Wideberg, junior LHP Alex Farotto, senior RHP Brandon Todd and freshman RHP Justin Hopper on a mop-up basis during some of their bigger name opponents' games. And one or two of them could possibly pitch an inning or two against MSU, although I don't see them pitching an extended amount of time or more than once against the Bulldogs.

Hitting (last five games) - As a team, during the last five games, South Carolina is hitting .340 and averaging 9.4 runs per game. Mississippi State, during the same period, hit .311 and averaged 10.2 runs per game.

Mississippi State has been without the services of their top hitter, sophomore second baseman Brandon Turner, who has been rehabbing a hamstring pull for the last few weeks. He is traveling with the team this weekend and may see action in a game.

Who's Hot at the Plate and Who's Not in the Last 5 Games - Mississippi State has four players hitting at least .400 during their last five games. Leading the way is junior outfielder Mark Goforth who has hit .500 in limited action (5-of-10, 2 RBI). Not far behind him is redshirt freshman DH Jason Nappi who is hitting a scorching .421 (8-of-19) with an amazing 4 home runs and 15 RBI. Also hitting at least .400 are sophomore infielder Jet Butler who is at .412 (7-of-17, 5 RBI) and freshman outfielder Ryan Collins who is hitting at a .400 clip (4-of-10, 3 RBI).

Freshman catcher Cody Freeman is slightly below .400, hitting .389 (7-of-18, 4 RBI) while sophomore third baseman Connor Powers comes in at .368 (7-of-19, 8 RBI).

State has a couple of players who are hitting near .300. Sophomore shortstop Russ Sneed is hitting at a .294 clip (5-of-17, 1 RBI) and junior outfielder Grant Houge who is hitting .286 (4-of-14, 1 RBI, 4 SB).

Junior first baseman Tyler Moore is hitting .200 (4-of-20, 3 RBI).

As for South Carolina, they are just as hot as Mississippi State with six players hitting .316 or better. Leading the way is junior James Darnell who comes in at a phenomenal .583 (14-of-24, 13 RBI). Hitting .409 (9-of-22, 5 RBI) is junior Andrew Crisp.

Four players are hitting in the .300+ range including freshman Whit Merrifield at .333 (6-of-18, 3 RBI), sophomore Kyle Enders at .320 (8-of-25, 4 RBI), junior Justin Smoak at .318 (7-of-22, 4 RBI) and senior Harley Lail who is hitting .316 (6-of-19, 3 RBI).

Junior Reese Havens is slightly behind them with a .286 batting average (6-of-21, 5 RBI).

Bringing up the rear is senior Phil Disher at .235 (4-of-17, 5 RBI) and freshman Scott Wingo at .182 (2-of-11, 2 RBI).

How South Carolina and MSU Match Up
South Carolina Category Mississippi State
12-5 Record 9-9
.319 Batting Average .310
149 (8.8 pg) Runs 150 (8.3 pg)
29 Home Runs 20
.519 Slugging % .468
11/18 Stolen Bases/Attempts 23/30
97 (5.7 pg) Walks 110 (6.1 pg)
120 (7.1 pg) Strikeouts 145 (8.1 pg)
169 (9.9 pg) LOB 160 (8.9 pg)
3.87 Team ERA 6.64
1 Saves 3
67 (3.9 pg) Walks 87 (4.8 pg)
152 (8.9 pg) Strikeouts 168 (9.3 pg)
.251 Batting Average Against .294
.978 Fielding % .970
15 Errors 20

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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