Ole Miss and State meet for pivotal weekend

No. 17 Mississippi State grabbed bragging rights by beating No. 18 Ole Miss in the Governor's Cup, but the real battle begins Friday with a three-game set at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field.

All weekends are difficult and important in the SEC, but it is impossible to mouth the cliché that this is simply another conference weekend as both teams are in contention for the West title as well as regional host consideration.

"They're all big but when you play your state rival this late in the season, it brings on a whole new significance," head coach Mike Bianco said.

The significance is mostly recognized in the league standings with the two teams separated by mere percentage points. They are even in the games back category, but MSU holds a slight lead due to two rainouts at Tennessee earlier in the year.

Both Ole Miss (28-15, 10-8) and State (27-10, 9-7) are three games behind division-leading Arkansas but second place is also coveted because of SEC Tournament implications. The top-eight advance to Hoover, Ala., with the teams selected in the order of the two division champions guaranteed the top seeds followed by the six next best conference records.

The weekend will feature a contrast of styles as Ole Miss leads the SEC in pitching with a 3.00 ERA, while MSU tops the league offensively with a .340 batting average. With that stalemate in place, the edge should go slightly to the Rebels considering the other categories. Ole Miss is in the top half of the conference in hitting as it comes in fourth at .315. However, the Bulldog pitching is in the conference cellar with a 5.36 ERA.

State skipper Ron Polk recognizes Ole Miss' strengths and has respect for its lineup.

"Pitching and defense is what makes the team go," Polk said. "Offensively they lost some great players from last year. Yet Coach Mike Bianco has recruited well and filled in the order-gaps with only modest drop-off in the early season. Two months of games has had the natural effect of developing the younger talent.

"I'm so impressed with the Henrys, that's a tough combo at the top of the lineup. Zack Cozart is a veteran and fine player; they've got a nice club. And they've been swinging the bat a lot better lately. And certainly they not only have good starting pitching but they've got a couple of guys in the bullpen in Cody Satterwhite and Scott Bittle who can bring it pretty good."

Bianco is also pleased with how the bullpen has performed of late, and the pitchers should all be rested and good to go all weekend.

"Everybody pitched well on Tuesday in their short stints," Bianco said. "Cryer and Satterwhite were excellent last weekend. I think we are getting more confidence as the season progresses in our bullpen."

MSU may have secured the annual midweek game for the first time since 2001, but Bianco doesn't believe that a lot can be taken from the two team's previous meeting.

"You get to see them and get a little feel for their lineup," Bianco said. "But besides that, not a lot. We didn't see (Chad) Crosswhite; we got to see (Aaron) Weatherford a little bit. We saw (Justin) Pigott for an inning, but that isn't much because not everybody got to see him. You have some idea about the hitters you are going to face, and this is easy to say this if you don't win, but there isn't a lot to be said for it."

The Bulldogs lead the overall series with Ole Miss 223-189-5, but the Rebels swept State at Oxford in 2005 and won the series last season in Starkville. Ole Miss is 19-7 at home, and MSU is 9-4 on the road.

Through 43 games last season, Ole Miss had an identical 28-15 record and was coming off a Friday night win against Tennessee. The Rebels had hit three fewer home runs are were batting .311 as a team. The team ERA was 4.14, but they were successful on 61-77 stolen bases.

All three games can be heard locally on 105.5 Supertalk Mississippi and across the entire Ole Miss radio network. There will be no Sirius satellite availability this weekend. Dot TV will be offered on Friday and Sunday.

FRIDAY, 6:30 P.M.?(Comcast Sports)

MSU - Chad Crosswhite (So., RHP, 5-1, 41.2 IP, 3.24 ERA)

OM - Will Kline (Jr., RHP, 5-1, 78.0 IP, 3.23 ERA)

SATURDAY, 3 P.M.?(Fox Sports Net)

MSU - Justin Pigott (Jr., LHP, 3-3, 59.2 IP, 5.58 ERA)

OM - Lance Lynn (So., RHP, 4-3, 71.2 IP, 2.64 ERA)

SUNDAY, 1:30 P.M.?(SportSouth)

MSU - Josh Johnson (Sr., RHP, 2-2, 39.1 IP, 6.18 ERA)

OM - Nathan Baker (Fr., LHP, 5-1, 46.2 IP, 3.86 ERA)

Other games:

SOUTH CAROLINA (32-11, 10-8 SEC) at ALABAMA (23-19, 8-10 SEC)

ARKANSAS (33-11, 13-5 SEC) at AUBURN (27-17, 6-12 SEC)

FLORIDA (23-20, 10-8 SEC) at VANDERBILT (36-8, 12-6 SEC)

GEORGIA (16-26, 6-12 SEC) at KENTUCKY (28-12-1, 7-10-1 SEC)

TENNESSEE (23-18, 6-10 SEC) at LSU (23-18-1, 6-10 SEC)

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