Mississippi State had high expectations heading into the season ranked as high as No. 2 in some polls.
But the Bulldogs struggled through the first month of the season sporting a 13-7 record and falling to 24th in the Baseball America poll.
Now MSU hits the meat of its schedule beginning the Southeastern Conference portion of the slate at Georgia this weekend. The three-game series starts today at 6 p.m. CT followed by an 11 a.m. meeting Saturday and the Sunday finale at noon.
State finished third in the Western Division and fifth in the SEC overall with a 16-14 league record last year but have not faced Georgia since the 2011 season, which was a three-game sweep by UGA at Foley Field.
Georgia leads the overall series 40-44 including a 20-13 advantage in Athens. Mississippi State skipper John Cohen is just 2-7 against UGA since returning to his alma mater.
MSU has won back-to-back games over Arizona (6-4) and Southern Illinois (3-0). State is hitting at a .276 clip with five homers and scoring 5.6 runs. Mississippi State maintains a .985 fielding percentage and is 35 of 46 on stolen base attempts.
Senior outfielders Demarcus Henderson and C.T. Bradford lead Mississippi State with a .333 batting average with Henderson tied with Derrick Armstrong with eight steals each. Senior second baseman Brett Pirtle has accumulated 24 hits while junior first baseman Wes Rea has slugged three long balls and driven in 19 runs.
MSU’s hurlers have compiled a 2.98 staff earned run average with 175 strikeouts and 71 walks over 178 frames. Their opposition is batting .253 against them with three homers.
Sophomore Preston Brown has a team-low 0.75 ERA and while junior Trevor Fitts has fanned 25 on the year. Jacob Lindgren, Will Cox and Myles Gentry have each recorded a pair of saves for State.
State will shuffle its weekend pitching rotation as senior right-hander Ben Bracewell (2-1, 1.74 ERA, 20 K, 4 BB) replaces Brandon Woodruff as the Friday night starter. Georgia will counter with sophomore southpaw Ryan Lawlor (1-1, 6.61 ERA, 9 K, 10 BB) making his fifth start of the year on the mound tonight.
Fitts (2-0, 3.92 ERA, 25 K, 4 BB), a right-hander, will draw the Saturday start for Mississippi State while Georgia freshman righty Robert Tyler (1-0, 0.93 ERA, 11 K, 5 BB) gets the ball. UGA will go with redshirt senior Patrick Boling (2-1, 2.57 ERA, 11 K, 5 BB) on the rubber Sunday while MSU has not announced a starter.
The Bulldogs from Athens enter the weekend riding a 10-game winning streak under new head coach Scott Stricklin. Georgia is 12-6 overall and are coming off a pair of mid-week wins over Western Kentucky, outscoring the Hilltoppers 34-13.
UGA is hitting .297 with six home runs and averaging 7.2 runs per game. Georgia is fielding at a .970 clip and has swiped 22 bases in 29 attempts.
Junior third baseman Hunter Cole paces Georgia at the plate with 26 hits while freshman second baseman Mike Bell sports a .400 batting average. Sophomore designated hitter Zack Bowers has blasted a pair of home runs and junior shortstop Nelson Ward has driven in 15 runs. Freshman outfielder Stephen Wrenn is the team’s top base thief stealing seven bases in eight tries.
Stricklin’s pitching staff sports a 4.78 staff ERA with 112 strikeouts and 67 walks in 162 innings. Their opponents are hitting .297 against them with six long balls.
Relievers Drew Moody and Heath Holder both have a perfect ERA while David Sosebee is Georgia’s strikeout leader with 18. Redshirt sophomore Pete Nagel has notched UGA’s lone save this season.
Saturday’s contest will be televised on FSN with Dave Baker and Rusty Ensor on the call. All three games can be heard on the MSU Baseball Radio Network.