Mississippi State's hellacious SEC slate continues this weekend with No. 2 South Carolina. First pitch for tonight's series opener is set for 7:06 p.m., and ESPNU will broadcast the contest.
For the third time this season, the Bulldogs (23-14, 6-9 SEC) will be facing a team ranked in the top five nationally, the others being Vanderbilt (No. 2 at the time, No. 4 now) and Florida (No. 4 then, No. 5 now). MSU dropped two of three to both of those teams.
But those two wins have provided the Bulldogs encouragement.
"Our kids are saying, wow, if we can beat teams that have a chance to win a national championship, why can't we? Why can't we be in that mix?" coach John Cohen said.
Can MSU break through and take a series from a team like South Carolina? Won't be easy, obviously. The Gamecocks (29-7, 12-3) do pretty much everything well – that's how they won the national championship last season.
Here's where SC ranks in some key categories in the SEC:
• Slugging: .438 (third)
• On-base %: .386 (fifth)
• Home runs: 32 (tied first)
• Walks: 161 (second)
• ERA: 2.55 (second)
• Opponent batting avg.: .214 (first)
• Hits allowed: 245 (first)
• Fielding %: .978 (first)
South Carolina hits .287, which is middle of the road, but they augment that by doing well in those above-mentioned categories like slugging and walks. The pitching staff is led by tonight's starter, junior left-hander Michael Roth (8-1, 1.24). Roth has the league's best ERA, but hey, so did Florida's Hudson Randall before MSU got to him a couple of weeks ago.
Here's a good profile of Roth from earlier this week.
"The thing you're hearing and you're seeing when you watch them play, is they just don't make mistakes, they don't give you anything," Cohen said. "They're really balanced."
• I'd be remiss if I didn't mention something about MSU senior third baseman Jarrod Parks, who continues to wield a big bat. He leads the SEC in batting average (.402) as well as on-base percentage (.526).
Parks has had 17 multi-hit games and enters the weekend on a 10-game hitting streak, a span during which he's batted .395.