By Chris Burrows
How important would it be to win an SEC road series?
“Oh, man. It would be great for us,” said Mississippi State’s Ron Polk, whose 26-12, 11-7 club gets the opportunity beginning tonight with Auburn (25-14, 8-10). “If we win a road series, we’ve got six straight (Arkansas and Ole Miss) at home.”
Ole Miss (17-21, 1-17) has the same opportunity, heading to Alabama (30-12, 12-6) with an opportunity to play spoiler. The Crimson Tide has a one-game lead on MSU in the Western Division and trails LSU, the division leader at 13-5, by a game.
“We can’t worry about anybody else, we just have to take care of ourselves,” Polk said. “Auburn is similar to Ole Miss. They’ve got a lot of new players that they’ve tried to mix in. We’re still getting information on them.”
While the Tigers are in a state of flux, the fixtures include outfielder Kevin Chabot (.317), pitcher Ryan Halla (16 career wins) and coach Hal Baird, who ranks just below Polk and LSU’s Skip Bertman in terms of career wins and winning percentage.
The Bulldogs, averaging 7.3 runs per game, can field a lineup with every position player hitting at least .300. Rob Hauswald leads the club at .358, but, Polk said, “Blake Anderson (.310) and Adam Piatt (.355) have been hot lately.”
On the hill, Mississippi State figures to go with the rotation of Eric DuBose (7-1), David Hooten, Keith Dilgard or Brett Wheeler. Saltillo’s Van Johnson is the middle or long reliever while Scott Polk is working back into the closer’s role.
Ole Miss at Alabama: The conference woes continue for the Rebels, who have lost 11 straight in league play. Even Bertman, whose LSU club swept Ole Miss in Oxford, is surprised at Don Kessinger’s club.
“I’m not just surprised, I’m shocked,” Bertman said. “They’re a much better team than 1-17, but it just hasn’t shown up on the scoreboard. I don’t know how you can explain it.”
While the Rebels have struggled in close SEC games (1-7 in games decided by three runs or less), Alabama has had a knack for winning the close games. The Tide features a balance of offense, led by Dustin Mohr (.311), and pitching, led by Chris Eilers (6-4).
The Rebels, despite the SEC struggles, have gotten an All-SEC offensive performance from first baseman Todd Mensik (.340, 8 HR, 32 RBI). On the mound, the Rebels have juco transfer Mike Rodgers, a left-hander who leads the staff in ERA at 2.21.
The second game of the series, scheduled for a 2 p.m. start, will be televised regionally on SportSouth.