Preview: MSU comes to town

Fresh off a road SEC series victory over Auburn and a home win over The Citadel, the 20-5 (5-1) South Carolina Gamecocks will welcome the Mississippi State Bulldogs to Carolina Stadium for a three-game SEC series. Look inside as has a preview of the match-up which starts Friday at 7 p.m.

Mississippi State (14-11, 2-4 in SEC play; currently last in SEC West)

Best wins: Two OOC wins over Michigan State in Tournament play.
Ugliest losses: Swept by Southeast Louisiana (three games) in Starkville, Ms.

Coach John Cohen (wears the #11 jersey) took over the Mississippi State program two years ago, during the post-season of '08, replacing longtime skipper Ron Polk. Coach Cohen is considered to be one of the top offensive tacticians in college baseball and proved it when he was head coach at Kentucky. He was the driving force behind Kentucky's baseball program in developing popularity of the sport in the Blue Grass State. The popularity of the game in Starkville and across Mississippi will not need his creative efforts as the game enjoys vast popularity throughout the Magnolia State... especially in Starkville, MS. Coach Cohen played college baseball at MSU and played his last game as a Senior for the Bulldogs in Omaha at the CWS in 1990.

When he came aboard as skipper for MSU in 2008, he trimmed the roster to create some space for some new recruits. His efforts in recruiting his '08-'09 class netted 20 prospects/recruits that was considered (by Baseball America) to be the nation's 8th best recruiting class. Many of those players figure heavily into his game plan today. He searched for the best high school players in Mississippi and searched for JuCo players that could make an immediate impact on the program. So far, they have had a rough time with SEC competition, but he will build toward a very competitive team over the next few years. They have played a total of 25 games with a large share of them taking place in Starkville (17 games at home) and only 8 games away.

They are currently ranked 6th (last) in the SEC West, being swept by Florida in Gainesville and winning two of three against UGA in Starkville. The team is currently last in team batting average in the SEC with a .280 average; South Carolina is 7th in the SEC (.302). They are tenth among all SEC teams in team pitching, with a team average of 4.78; S.C. is currently 3rd with a team average 3.41. MSU is currently ranked 11th in team fielding with a .961 fielding percentage; S.C. is seventh with a .970 team fielding average. Conner Powers is currently the 4th biggest homerun threat in the SEC with 9 round trippers to date. Sunday's game will be televised on ESPNU and all games will be on ESPN360's web broadcast.

Following their batting order has been a tall order to fill. There are what one would consider "regulars" in the line-up, but there are some positions where personnel has been shifted to fill a need, whether the need is for hitting, better defense or to get a faster runner on base. Here is a look at their starting line-up, as it has appeared over the past two weeks:

Nick Vickerson (lead off hitter): R-R, Jr. playing 3B; .300 BA.
Luke Adkins (hitting 2nd): L-L, Sr. playing LF/RF; .310 BA.
Conner Powers (3rd): R-R, Sr. playing 1B; .398 BA.
Russ Snead (4th): R-R, Sr. hitting DH; .276 BA.
Ryan Collins (5th): L-L, Jr. playing CF/LF; .282 BA.
Cody Freeman (6th)*: R-R, Jr. playing Catcher; .303 BA.
* Jet Butler (6th or 7th): S-R, Sr. playing LF/2B; .369 BA.
Jonathon Ogden (8th): R-R, Jr. playing SS; .241 BA.
Sam Frost (9th): L-R, Fr. playing 2B; .204 BA.
* switches in batting order can occur with Jet Butler and Cody Freeman.

In rotation:

Jaron Shepard (PH): L-R, Tr. Jr. playing CF/LF; .233 BA.
Wes Thigpen (PH): R-R, Tr. Jr. playing Catcher; .204 BA.
Trey Johnson (PH): L-L, Tr.Jr. LHP/OF; .222 BA.
Ryan Duffy (PH): L-R, Sr. playing LF; .171BA.

Batting averages considered, they can provide pop from either side of the plate. Most of their power will come from the right side of the plate, with the exception of Jet Butler who is a switch hitter. There is a lot of experience in this batting order, with four seniors, four juniors and one freshman that is seeing some regular time in the rotation (Sam Frost) batting in the nine hole. Given the rotation of players in positions and part time roles that some have in a game (Jet Butler for instance) it seems they have had a difficult time in building some consistency with a solid batting order. Coach Cohen was known for switching guys out in the field at Kentucky, trying to get his best line-up on the field during a particular game. It seems to me he is doing the same with the MSU line-up and one can only guess when it will pay off... as it did for UK in their '07 season (when they lead the Eastern division).

Scoring factoids: When MSU is leading after six innings, their record is 8-1; When they are trailing after six innings, their record is 4-7. If they go O fer in the home run department in a game, they are 6-6; when they hit +2 homeruns in a game, they are 6-3. If their opponent hits zero homeruns in a game, they are 11-4; if the opponent hits 1 homerun, they are 2-5. If an opponent hits +2 homeruns against their pitching, MSU is 0-1. MSU's record is 0-4 if they score only 0-2 runs/game; 2-5 if they score 3-5 runs and 4-0 if they score 6-9 runs. They are undefeated (4-0) in games where they have scored +10 runs. MSU has done better in games where they are allowed to score in the final frame (9th inning) and in extra innings; the opponent has been historically better against them if they (the opponent) scores against MSU in early innings.

Gamecock faithful have to hope that our hitters saved a few homeruns for this series during their weekday match-up against The Citadel. Given our ability to hit pretty evenly and whoever has the hot hand at DH, the Gamecocks should take two of three this weekend... quite possibly build on their wins by sweeping the Bulldogs from MSU. A sweep would be tough, but given the fact that this game is in Columbia... not totally out of the picture. MSU was swept in Gainesville two weekends ago to open their SEC regular season schedule against Florida. Good/timely hitting, minimal errors and spot on pitching will deliver our guys this series. Starting pitching for this series (per will be:

Friday evening: Blake Cooper, Yardbirds; Kendall Graveman, MSU.
Saturday: Sam Dyson, Yardbirds; Chris Stratton, MSU.
Sunday: Jay Brown, Yardbirds; TBA, MSU.

MSU's pitching is often switched around to get the hot hand on the mound to start the game. Typically, they will close a game with Devin Jones or Ben Bracewell. We know that their opener for Friday will be Kendall Graveman, who started in game #1 for them against Florida. Chris Stratton will get the start on Saturday; he started in game #2 against Florida and UGa. Their Sunday starter of record was Nick Routt against Florida and Chad Girodo against UGa. Nick Routt was given the opportunity to start the series (on a Friday start) against UGa last weekend and he may be the one we will see this Sunday as he was not a part of the loss to Ole miss (as a starter or in relief). Here is the skinny on Mississippi State's starters and relievers:

Kendall Graveman. RHP (R-R, Fr.) 6.20 ERA; Friday starter. Scheduled to start against Carolina this weekend. Was thought of early in the season as a Saturday closer (him or Ben Bracewell), but has been most impressive in the starting role early on in SEC play. Graveman possesses a big, powerful breaking pitch. His fastball is a +90 mph heater. He was a QB on his high school football team and possesses very good accuracy... hitters do best when they challenge him early in the game. He went 5 innings against Florida (game #1 in Gainesville) and gave up 5 runs (5 earned) with 0 K's against the Gators. Did not pitch against UGA in last weekend's series. Has pitched 24.2 innings in 7 appearances; 17 runs (17 earned) and 9 k's.

Chris Stratton. RHP (R-R, Fr.) 3.48 ERA; Saturday starter. Scheduled to start against Carolina this Saturday. Was one of the top H.S. prospects out of the State of Mississippi last year and recruited hard by Coach Cohen. Was considered to be a key part of MSU's future pitching staff when signed. Stratton throws a really nasty curveball and will work in and out with his fastball. He has very good velocity on his pitches and has a seamless delivery. His curveball, fastball combination gets hitters out. He will throw a fastball in the low 90's and will keep it low in the strike zone. Has pitched 31 innings in 6 appearances; 17 runs (12 earned) and 36 k's.

Nick Routt. LHP (L-L, So.) 6.52 ERA; possible Sunday starter. He developed in the off-season (summer to winter) a very reliable curveball to go against left-handed hitters; this curveball is his go-to pitch for lefties. Will rely on his fastball and says he has added 3 to 5 mph to the fastball this year. He has worked on his defense on the mound for this year. He will be the type pitcher where bunts have to be down the line to pull it off successfully. Has pitched 19.1 innings in 6 appearances; 20 runs (14 earned) and registered 21 K's.

Chad Girodo. LHP (L-L, Fr.) 6.10 ERA; possible Sunday starter. Started against UGA on their Sunday game last week. Has pitched 20.2 innings this year with 8 appearances. HAs given up 16 runs (14 earned) and has 12 strike outs.

Caleb Reed. RHP (R-R, So.) 3.69 ERA; pitched in game #3(in relief) against Florida with a solid performance (5.1 innings, 1 run (1 earned), 2 k's) and held Florida batters in check during his performance. He has recently switched to a side-arm motion and delivery which is new this year for him. He has had 10 appearances in relief, going 31.2 innings. Opponents have scored 15 runs on him (13 earned) and has 30 strike outs. Usually comes in as the second pitcher in relief (against Memphis and in game #3 against Florida and UGA).

Greg Houston. RHP (R-R, Sr.) 1.54 ERA; comes in as a reliever in later innings when needed (3rd or 4th reliever). Typically used for short stints (1 inning or a little more when he takes the mound) in relief on the mound. He hits 88-91 mph range with a very nice slider; has great command of his pitches. His role as a lock down reliever was established early on in the pre-season, and he shares that role with Senior Tyler Whitney. Houston's numbers this year are very solid; he has had 9 appearances in relief, going 11.2 innings. Opponents have scored only 2 runs (2 earned) and he has 9 strike outs.

Tyler Whitney. LHP (L-L, Sr.) 5.14 ERA; As stated above, Whitney comes in as a middle reliever, primarily during weekend games. Tyler has improved his change-up pitch over the Winter for this season and uses it effectively to get outs. Whitney has 6 appearances going 4.1 innings. Opponents have 11 runs against him (8 earned) and he has 12 strike outs against batters faced to date. Used effectively against UGA in game #1 (2.2 IP, 1 run, 1 SO) as third man in relief against the (Jawja) Bulldawgs.

Devin Jones. RHP (L-R, So.) 5.17 ERA; Used primarily as a closer and closed the Memphis (weekday) game and game #2 against UGA. Was used in game #1 against UGA as the fourth reliever of five (total) pitchers in that game. Jones uses a fastball in the neighborhood of 94-95 mph and a slider that touches 82-85 mph. Dominant pitcher used more as a closer or (As noted above) in late relief. Coach Cohen considered Jones to be a closer in game 1 during weekends and as a starter on Sundays, but Jones has maintained his role as a closer (for now). He has 12 appearances with15.2 innings pitched, 11 runs (9 earned) and has struck out 20.

Ben Bracewell. RHP (R-R, Fr.) 3.27 ERA; Used primarily as a closer during weekday and weekend games, he closed against UGA in game #1 (1.0 IP, 0 runs, 1K). He was used in late relief against Ole Miss (4th pitcher of 5 total). Bracewell possesses a big breaking pitch and possesses a good fastball which can hit the low 90's... but he will keep it in the high 80's for better control and location. He possesses an "east-to-west" slider (good movement left to right) and that is his out pitch; it tops out at about 82 mph. He has 10 appearances with 11 innings pitched; batters have hit him for 4 runs (4 earned) and he has registered 14 strike outs in his appearances in late relief and as a closer.

Cory Collins. RHP (R-R, Tr. Jr.) 3.18 ERA; used as a utility reliever... sees action in early and late relief and is used as needed. Was used mostly in late relief (4 or 5 man on the mound) against UGA (game #2, 4th among 6 pitchers total) and closed against Ole Miss. Collins has had 7 appearances and has pitched in 11.1 innings. Opponents have scored 5 runs (4 earned) against him, but he has struck out 19 batters. If he is on, he can be effective for MSU in relief.

Luke Bole. LHP (L-L, Fr.) 7.07 ERA; used as utility reliever... sees action in early and late relief and is used as needed. Was used in early relief against Memphis (0.1 IP, 1R, 1SO) and Ole Miss (3.2 IP, 1 run [0 earned] 1 K). Was used in late relief against UGA in game #2 (.2 IP, 1R, 1SO). Bole has 7 appearances with 14 innings pitched; batters have 13 runs scored (11 earned) against him, but he has registered 5 strike outs.

This MSU team is a team that is consistently inconsistent. They have peaks and valleys that are tall and deep. That is what makes them a dangerous team in my mind... you really don't know which team your guys will face off against. They possess a pretty mature team at bat and are pretty mature in the field. Yet, they lost a game to Ole Miss in The Governor's Cup mainly due to some ugly fielding... giving the Rebels the opportunity to win by committing four errors (one at 2B, one at 3B and one at catcher... a pitcher had a throwing error to 2nd base. But the errors made on infield plays are unforgivable errors, in my opinion. It allowed Ole Miss to continue play when an out should've been registered by players who have been regulars on their roster.

This is the kind of game where limited errors, good fielding, good situational hitting and steady pitching will win you your games. Definitely the possibility of a 2 out of 3 weekend series when we have them on our home field... home field advantage is a huge plus for us against them this year.

Gamecock Anthem Top Stories