After a 23-game homestand to start the season, Mississippi State will venture out on the road for the first time traveling to Kentucky for a three-game series beginning at 5:30 p.m. CT today.
Coach John Cohen felt it was important for his team to start the season within the friendly confines of Dudy Noble Field after losing 11 players from last year and adding 14 newcomers to the roster. The Diamond Dogs won 13 straight games to begin the year and sport a 17-6 overall mark at home in 2015.
“It’ll probably be different for us in the future but I felt like this is what this club needed for this year,” Cohen said. “But I do think our kids are looking forward to this opportunity to go on the road.”
MSU fared well on the road last season going 11-8 last season including a 10-5 mark in conference play. The Bulldogs won four of its five SEC road series in 2014.
Cliff Hagan Stadium is a ballpark that Cohen has plenty of familiarity in. Cohen spent five seasons coaching the Wildcats in Lexington leading them to two NCAA Regional appearances and the overall SEC Championship in 2006.
“They are a very difficult team to beat at home,” Cohen said. “The way that ballpark plays is very unique. It’s a tough place to play and weather always plays a factor there, be it good or bad.”
Mississippi State leads the overall series 58-36 while the Wildcats hold a slim 20-19 edge in Lexington. Cohen is 6-6 against his former club although Kentucky has won three straight including a 7-6 12-inning victory in the SEC Tournament last year.
Cohen’s assistant at UK, Gary Henderson, took over the program after his departure and has the Wildcats off to a 13-7 start this season. Kentucky is in the midst of a four-game skid after being swept at South Carolina last weekend and dropping a home midweek outing to Ohio, 10-7.
The Wildcats will send sophomore right-hander Zack Brown (1-2, 2.77 ERA) to the mound today while State counters with junior righty Preston Brown (3-1, 2.15 ERA).
The Diamond Dogs have received a strong effort from its starting pitchers. MSU’s starting rotation consisting of Brown, Austin Sexton, Vance Tatum and Lucas Laster have combined to go 11-1 with a 2.34 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 119 innings.
The bullpen has struggled of late including eighth inning meltdowns to lose last weekend’s SEC opening weekend to Alabama. Seven different relievers surrendered 12 runs in the eighth inning in the two losses to the Crimson Tide.
“We need to simplify things,” said MSU closer Trevor Fitts. “Our pitchers are making things too complicated late in games.”
Probable Weekend Pitching Rotation
Friday – MSU RHP Preston Brown (3-1, 2.15 ERA) VS. UK RHP Zack Brown (1-2, 2.77 ERA)
Saturday – MSU RHP Austin Sexton (3-0, 2.12 ERA) VS. UK RHP Dustin Beggs (2-2, 3.23 ERA)
Sunday – MSU LHP Vance Tatum (2-0, 2.73 ERA) VS. UK RHP Kyle Cody (2-1, 3.62 ERA)