No. 9 Mississippi State has claimed its first three Southeastern Conference series this season.
But for the Bulldogs to win a fourth they will have to do so in one of college baseball’s most hostile venues, LSU’s Alex Box Stadium.
The three-game set gets underway tonight at 6:30 on CSS followed by an ESPNU telecast at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The series finale is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday.
The Diamond Dogs lead the all-time series 204-168-1 but are 81-90 in games played in Baton Rouge. LSU has won the series for seven consecutive seasons including taking two games in Starkville last year in the SEC opener for both. The Tigers won 6-4 in 10-innings on Friday and also 7-3 on Saturday before Mississippi State rallied to claim the finale 10-2.
The Bulldogs enter the weekend at 20-10 overall and are tied atop the SEC standings with Florida, South Carolina and Alabama at 6-3. Mississippi State did not have a midweek game scheduled after taking the final two games at home against Arkansas.
John Cohen is three wins shy of reaching his 200th victory as head coach for the Diamond Dogs. Cohen’s club is hitting .270 with six home runs and scoring 5.3 runs per game. MSU maintains a .985 fielding percentage which ranks fourth nationally and are 45 of 59 in stolen base attempts.
Senior right fielder Demarcus Henderson paces the Bulldogs at the dish batting .333 and is tied with senior centerfielder Derrick Armstrong with nine steals. Junior first baseman Wes Rea has clubbed three homers and knocked in 25 runs while senior second baseman Brett Pirtle has 36 hits.
Senior outfielder C.T. Bradford has missed the last seven outings due to a hip injury. Bradford made the trip to the bayou and will be a game-time decision.
State’s pitching staff has compiled a 2.76 earned run average while striking out 256 and walking 99 in 267 innings. Their opponents are hitting .242 against them with four long balls.
Junior reliever Jacob Lindgren holds a team-low 0.93 ERA while junior Trevor Fitts has fanned 40. Junior All-American closer Jonathan Holder has four of the Diamond Dogs 10 saves.
A shoulder injury to Preston Brown (3-1, 1.95 ERA, 29 K, 13 BB) following a mid-week bullpen session will push back the sophomore right-hander’s regularly scheduled opening night start. Instead junior southpaw Ross Mitchell (5-1, 1.55 ERA, 27 K, 13 BB) is expected to get the nod tonight with the righty Fitts (2-1, 3.09 ERA, 40 K, 6 BB) taking the mound on Saturday for MSU.
Cohen is hopeful the extra days of rest will be enough for Brown to pitch on Sunday.
LSU will counter with freshman left-hander Jared Poche’ (5-2, 2.61 ERA, 25 K, 12 BB) on the bump tonight and its ace junior righty Aaron Nola (5-1, 0.55 ERA, 61 K, 9 BB) on Saturday. Like Mississippi State, the Tigers will wait to announce their starting pitcher for the series finale.
The 20th-ranked Tigers are 3-5-1 in conference play and 21-8-1 on the year. Paul Mainieri’s squad snapped a four-game skid with a 10-3 win at home against McNeese State on Wednesday.
The Tigers lost all three games at Florida last weekend marking the first time LSU had been swept since 2011.
Mainieri’s lineup is batting .274 with 14 homers and averaging six runs per game. The Tigers sport a .979 fielding percentage and are 24 of 35 on base thefts.
Freshman left fielder Jake Fraley has a team-high .385 average while junior catcher Kade Scivicque is LSU’s top hitter with 33 knocks. Scivicque is tied with senior designated hitter Sean McMullen with three home runs each with McMullen topping the club with 19 RBI. 2013 National Freshman of the Year shortstop Alex Bregman is the Tigers leading base thief with eight steals in 11 tries.
LSU’s hurlers have a 2.29 staff ERA with 221 strikeouts and 75 walks over 267.2 frames. Their opposition is batting just .211 against them with seven long balls.
Closer junior Joe Broussard holds a 0.71 ERA and has five of the Tigers eight saves. Nola is the team’s strikeout leader with 61.