No. 24 Mississippi State travels to Missouri for the first time in school history this weekend but Columbia is a very familiar setting to Bulldog coach John Cohen.
Cohen cut his teeth in the coaching profession for six years with the Tigers first as a graduate assistant from 1992-94 and then as an assistant coach under Tim Jamieson from 1995-97 before landing his first head coaching gig at Northwestern State.
First pitch is slated for 6 p.m. tonight followed by a 2 p.m. start on Saturday. The series finale will be at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
The two programs have met just twice previously on the diamond with the Bulldogs winning both. MSU outlasted the Tigers 2-1 in 17-innings during last year’s SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. Former catcher Mitch Slauter finally ended the affair with an RBI single in the bottom of the 17th inning after State stranded 19 runners.
The Diamond Dogs other victory in the series came in the 2003 NCAA Starkville Regional, 10-5.
Preston Brown’s injury will force him to miss his third straight SEC start on the mound. The sophomore right-hander will not make the trip to Missouri.
Junior right-hander Trevor Fitts (2-2, 3.29 ERA, 42 K, 7 BB) will take the mound tonight for Mississippi State with sophomore southpaw Ross Mitchell (5-3, 2.15 ERA, 33 K, 16 BB) pushing his start back to Saturday. Sunday’s starter will be determined by which pitcher has not been used during the previous two games out of the bullpen.
Missouri will counter with junior right-hander Brett Graves (3-2, 2.67 ERA, 48 K, 11 BB) toeing the rubber tonight. Junior righty John Miles (2-4, 5.25 ERA, 36 K, 14 BB) will draw the start on Saturday while senior right-hander Eric Anderson (2-2, 3.15 ERA, 39 K, 5 BB) gets the nod in the finale.
The Bulldogs (23-15, 7-8) are attempting to bounce back from consecutive SEC series losses. State was swept at LSU and lost two to Ole Miss at home last weekend. Cohen’s club struggled offensively on both weekends but got some confidence back with a 16-2 victory over Alcorn State Tuesday night.
Mississippi State enters the weekend hitting .271 with six home runs and scoring 5.1 runs per game. The Diamond Dogs maintain a .982 fielding percentage and have swiped 54 bases in 70 attempts.
Senior left fielder Derrick Armstrong leads the team with a .356 batting average and 13 steals. Senior second baseman Brett Pirtle has collected 47 hits while junior first baseman Wes Rea has slugged three homers and driven in 28 runs.
MSU’s pitching staff has compiled a 3.37 earned run average with 313 strikeouts and 124 walks in 339 innings. Opponents are hitting .258 against them with seven long balls.
Junior Jacob Lindgren tops the team with 49 strikeouts and sports a 1.35 ERA. Junior All-American Jonathan Holder has notched four of the Bulldogs 10 saves on the year.
Missouri is 17-18 on the year and 6-9 in conference play having won last weekend’s series at Kentucky. The Tigers lost at Missouri State 9-0 Tuesday night and have been shut out twice in their last three outings.
Jamieson’s team is batting .263 with seven homers and averaging 4.1 runs per game. Missouri sports a .969 fielding percentage and is 29 of 46 on base thefts.
Senior catcher Dylan Kelly leads the Tiger regulars with a .333 batting average and 17 RBI. Senior first baseman Kendall Keaton has registered 40 hits and seven steals on the year while Anderson is the power threat with three long balls.
Missouri’s hurlers have a 3.90 staff ERA with 245 strikeouts and 79 walks over 311.2 frames. Their opposition is hitting .278 against them with 12 home runs.
Relievers Alec Rash, Brandon Baker and Tyler House all have flawless ERA’s for the Tigers. Graves is the staff leader in strikeouts while junior Keaton Steele has nine of Missouri’s 11 saves.
The series will not be televised but can be heard on the MSU Baseball Radio Network with Jim Ellis and Bart Gregory on the call.