Arkansas preview

Jonathan Holder is the NCAA's active saves leader with 33 and needs just one to take sole possession of third place in SEC history. (AP Photo/Eric Francis)

Jonathan Holder is the NCAA’s active saves leader with 33 and needs just one to take sole possession of third place in SEC history. (AP Photo/Eric Francis)

STARKVILLE – Mississippi State will vie for its third consecutive series to open Southeastern Conference play this weekend hosting Arkansas for a three-game set.

The 16th-ranked Diamond Dogs took two games from Georgia and Vanderbilt to begin league play and hope to remain atop the league standings against the Razorbacks.

MSU’s pitching staff will maintain the same rotation for the weekend that gave them a chance to sweep the then No. 6 Commodores. Preston Brown (3-0, 1.12 ERA, 25 K, 12 BB), a sophomore right-hander, will take the mound at 6:30 p.m. tonight followed by junior All-American southpaw Ross Mitchell (4-1, 1.66 ERA, 25 K, 13 BB) at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Junior righty Trevor Fitts (2-1, 3.13 ERA, 37 K, 6 BB) gets the nod for the Sunday finale at 1:30 p.m.

Mississippi State leads the series against the Razorbacks 46-39 including a 21-15 mark in Starkville. Arkansas took two games from the Bulldogs in Fayetteville last season with each team scoring nine runs on the weekend.

The Bulldogs enter this weekend at 18-9 overall and 4-2 in conference play. State is coming off a 3-2 win against Southeast Missouri on Tuesday following a walk-off single by senior right fielder Demarcus Henderson.

John Cohen’s club is hitting .268 with five home runs and scoring 5.5 runs per game. The Diamond Dogs maintain a .984 fielding percentage which ranks fifth nationally and are 42-of-55 on stolen base attempts.

Henderson paces the Diamond Dogs at the plate with a .352 average and is also 9 for 9 on stolen base attempts. Senior second baseman Brett Pirtle leads the team with 32 hits while junior first baseman Wes Rea has three homers and driven in 23 runs.

Mississippi State’s hurlers have compiled a 2.85 earned run average with 230 strikeouts and 97 walks in 240 innings. Their opponents are batting .246 against them with four long balls.

Brown has a staff-low ERA while Fitts tops the team in strikeouts. Junior All-American closer Jonathan Holder has three of the Bulldogs nine saves this season.

The Razorbacks staff has also been impressive sporting a 2.10 ERA will 11 pitchers with an ERA under 2.93. Their opposition is hitting just .198 against them this season with five home runs.

Junior left-hander Jalen Beeks (3-2, 1.56 ERA, 30 K, 11 BB) gets the start on the mound in Friday’s game while sophomore righty Trey Killian (1-3, 2.36 ERA, 16 K, 3 BB) has the nod on Saturday. Junior right-hander Chris Oliver (2-2, 1.74 ERA, 22 K, 8 BB) toes the rubber on Sunday.

Relievers Michael Gunn, Jacob Stone and Josh Alberius all sport a flawless ERA while Beeks is the team leader in strikeouts. Gunn has notched four of the Hogs six saves on the year.

Arkansas is 16-8 overall and are off to a 3-3 start in conference play. The Hogs have won five straight taking a pair of one-run affairs at home against Alabama last weekend and sweeping three-game midweek series with Mississippi Valley State.

Arkansas is hitting .265 with nine home runs and averaging 5.4 runs per game. The Razorbacks second-leading hitter – junior designated hitter Krisjon Wilkerson – is a familiar name for MSU having been a walk-on wide receiver on the Bulldogs football team in 2010 and also spent the fall of 2011 as a walk-on catcher for Cohen before transferring to Pearl River Community College that spring.

Wilkerson has started 18 games in his first season at Arkansas hitting .295 with a home run and seven runs batted in.

Junior second baseman Brian Anderson is the Hogs top hitter with a .330 average with 29 hits, two homers and 20 RBI. Sophomore centerfielder Tyler Spoon also has a pair of long balls and has knocked in 20. Juniors Joe Serrano (left field) and Eric Fisher (first base) are tied for the team lead with three steals apiece.

The Razorbacks have a .970 fielding percentage and are 17 of 22 on stolen base tries.

None of the weekend games will be televised but can be heard on the MSU Baseball Radio Network with Jim Ellis and Bart Gregory on the call.

I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.

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