Auburn preview

Josh Lovelady has started 19 games behind the plate in his first season at Mississippi State. (Mississippi State)

Josh Lovelady has started 19 games behind the plate in his first season at Mississippi State. (Mississippi State)

Mississippi State was rolling right along beginning the year with a 13-game winning streak until suffering its first loss to Arkansas-Pine Bluff on March 3.

The Diamond Dogs are just 5-9 since including dropping their first two SEC weekend series to start the year. MSU will try to find its groove again hosting Auburn this weekend for a three-game set starting tonight at 6:30 p.m.

“We just need to get back to the way we were playing at the beginning of the season,” said MSU pitcher Paxton Stover. “We weren’t playing SEC schools but it just seemed like everything was on track and everybody was working together. We were hot and it just kind of flowed. We just need to get back to that point.”

The Bulldogs are 2-4 to start conference play losing back-to-back series to Alabama and Kentucky. State currently sits fourth in the SEC West standings and wants to gain some ground before the calender rolls into April.

“Every single one of these games is critically important, not only for the development of our kids but also for them to feel like things are going to go their way,” said MSU coach John Cohen. “In some cases you have to make your own breaks and I think that’s something we need to do.”

Breaks were hard to come by during the Diamond Dogs’ previous outing. Mississippi State hit into three double plays and stranded five other runners in a 3-0 loss to Southern Miss in Pearl on Tuesday.

In conference play alone, the Bulldogs are batting only .260 while its pitching staff has seen its earned run average balloon to 6.92. SEC opponents have hit .324 against them.

Despite the recent struggles, MSU will stick with the same pitching rotation this weekend. The Bulldogs also hope to have senior closer Trevor Fitts back available after missing the trip to Kentucky with arm soreness.

Auburn is also off to a rough start in league play. The Tigers are 15-10 overall but just 1-5 in the SEC after being swept at Texas A&M and losing two at home to Vanderbilt.

“They might have had the toughest first two weeks in the league,” Cohen said. “I think they’ll be ready to go this weekend.”

The Tigers are coming off a 4-1 loss at Georgia Tech on Tuesday.

State has won four straight against Auburn including a road sweep last season in which they outscored the Tigers 18-1.

The Diamond Dogs hold a 101-86-1 edge in the overall series including a 55-29 record in Starkville. Auburn’s last series win at Dudy Noble Field came in 2009.

PROBABLE PITCHING ROTATION

Friday: Auburn RHP Cole Lipscomb (3-0, 2.19 ERA) vs. MSU RHP Preston Brown (3-2, 3.77 ERA)

Saturday: Auburn RHP Keegan Thompson (4-2, 4.10 ERA) vs. MSU RHP Austin Sexton (3-1, 3.09 ERA)

Sunday: Auburn RHP Dalton Rentz (1-0, 3.43 ERA) vs. MSU LHP Vance Tatum (3-0, 3.26 ERA)

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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