Mississippi State has plenty of questions entering its 125th baseball season.
The good news for coach John Cohen is that many of those questions will be answered by Tuesday night. The Diamond Dogs open the year with five games in five days including a four-game round robin series against Cincinnati and Miami (Ohio) this weekend dubbed the Mississippi State Classic.
“It takes on more of a tournament flavor and I really like this,” Cohen said. “It also forces you to use your personnel. You can’t have one catcher catch five games and you can’t have three starters throw five games in five days on the mound. It forces certain things to happen.”
The series begins at noon today with the Bearcats and Redhawks squaring off. MSU will take on Cincinnati in the nightcap at 4 p.m.
The Bulldogs will play both teams in a Saturday doubleheader beginning at noon and close the weekend against Cincinnati Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
State will play three weekend round robin series to start the year as well as a game the following Tuesday.
Cohen has pegged junior right-hander Preston Brown as his opening night starter on the mound. Brown drew nine starts last season going 4-3 with a 3.00 ERA, 34 strikeouts and 19 walks in 45 frames.
“‘I feel like I can get the job done on Friday,” Brown said. “I feel like we’ve got five or six guys who can go out there and do it. It just comes down to whoever they want to go out there.”
The Diamond Dogs have several candidates to fill the remainder of the weekend rotation. Cohen mentioned senior southpaws Lucas Laster and Ross Mitchell as possibilities as well as sophomore right-hander Austin Sexton and true freshman righty Jesse McCord.
Mississippi State finished second in the SEC with 513 strikeouts as as staff last season and allowed only 13 home runs, the fewest in the conference.
The Bulldogs return 16 lettermen and five positional starters from last year’s 39-24 squad that advanced to the Lafayette Regional.
Cincinnati went 22-31 a year ago and is expected to start freshman lefty Dalton Lehnen on the mound in Game 2 tonight. Senior infielder Ryan Elble is back after hitting .317 while junior outfielder Gary Russo provides the power in the lineup with 16 doubles, 10 homers and 40 RBI in 2014.
It will be the Bearcats first ever meeting with State.
Miami went 30-27 last spring and returns four of its top five hitters and eight positional starters. The Redhawks hit .284 as a team last season averaging 5.49 runs but was let down by its hurlers with a 4.95 earned run average.
Miami is 100-64 all-time against Cincinnati and won its only meeting against MSU 6-3 in Starkville during the 1974 season.