Arizona, Samford preview

Mississippi State could have outfielder Michael Smith back in the lineup as early as this weekend. (Mississippi State)

Mississippi State could have outfielder Michael Smith back in the lineup as early as this weekend. (Mississippi State)

John Cohen has been pleased with the level of competition Mississippi State has faced in the early stages of the season so far.

The Diamond Dogs are ranked No. 22 in the country and are also one of only three Division I teams off to a 9-0 start.

But things will go to another tier this weekend as MSU welcomes Arizona (8-2) and Samford (3-4) to Dudy Noble Field for a round-robin series.

“I don’t think we’ve played against competition that is sub-par in any way but when you’re talking about an Arizona, they are another level,” Cohen said.

State will meet the Wildcats at 4 p.m. today and play both clubs in a Saturday doubleheader beginning at 11 a.m. The series will conclude Sunday with Mississippi State and Samford at 4:30 p.m.

Cohen and Mississippi State is familiar with both clubs having met multiple times in recent years. MSU split with Arizona in Tucson last season as part of the Hi-Corbett Classic. The Wildcats won the first game 12-3 before State evened things up with a 6-4 victory.

“We went out there last year and things really didn’t go our way,” said MSU shortstop Seth Heck. “It’s nice to be able to get a second chance here at Dudy Noble.”

State was eliminated from the 2012 Tallahassee Regional by Samford but ended up sweeping the following season as part of the Diamond Classic in Starkville with 8-2 and 8-1 wins.

Mississippi State is 9-4 overall against Arizona and 32-10 against Samford.

Arizona and Samford will start the series at noon today. State will start junior right-hander Preston Brown (2-0, 2.45 ERA) on the bump tonight while the Wildcats send sophomore righty Austin Schnabel (1-1, 7.71 ERA) out.

Schnabel took the loss against Mississippi State last year giving up four earned runs on five hits with a walk and a strikeout over 5 1/3 innings.

Injuries have been a focal point early in the year for MSU. First baseman Wes Rea has been regulated to pinch hit duties since being hit on the knee during opening weekend while outfielder Michael Smith has been hampered by a leg injury since the first game. Cohen expects Rea to be available this weekend while Smith’s return could come this weekend or next.

Catcher Gavin Collins (left hand) caught his first bullpen on Friday and is targeted to return by the start of conference play.

Injured pitchers Paul Young and Myles Gentry are also making progress during bullpen sessions.

“If we can just get all of our pieces healthy, you feel like you’re getting a different dimension with our club,” Cohen said.

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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