STARKVILLE – Mississippi State will vie for its third consecutive series victory to open SEC play this weekend, hosting Arkansas for a three-game set.
The 16th-ranked Diamond Dogs took two games each from Georgia and Vanderbilt to begin league play and hope to remain atop the league standings against the Razorbacks.
“You just hope your club gets off to a really good start (against Arkansas),” said MSU coach John Cohen. “We’d love to have the same type of home field advantage that we had last weekend with a tremendous, vocal crowd. I think our kids really feed off of that, who wouldn’t? We’ve got to get off to a great start on the mound and certainly Preston (Brown) did that last weekend also.”
MSU’s pitching staff will maintain the same rotation for the weekend that gave them a chance to sweep the then No. 6 Commodores. Brown, a sophomore right-hander, will take the mound at 6:30 p.m. tonight followed by junior All-American southpaw Ross Mitchell at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Junior righty Trevor Fitts gets the nod for the Sunday finale at 1:30 p.m.
The Bulldogs enter the weekend at 18-9 overall and 4-2 in conference play. State is coming off a 3-2 win against Southeast Missouri on Tuesday following a walk-off single by senior right-fielder Demarcus Henderson.
Henderson paces the Diamond Dogs at the plate with a .352 average and is also 9 for 9 on stolen base attempts.
“I’m coming into finding my swing a little bit as I get more at bats,” Henderson said. “It always happens for me this time of year, I don’t know why but it does so I’m not complaining.”
Mississippi State’s hurlers have compiled a 2.85 earned run average with 230 strikeouts and 97 walks in 240 innings.
The Razorbacks staff has also been impressive sporting a 2.10 ERA will 11 pitchers with an ERA under three.
“They’re really talented and their pitching numbers are ridiculous,” Cohen said. “Looking at Vanderbilt’s pitching numbers last weekend and now at Arkansas, and they’re almost identical. They’ve got a very good pitching staff and are very well coached.”
Arkansas is 16-8 overall, 3-3 in conference play. The Hogs have won five straight, taking a pair of one-run affairs at home against Alabama last weekend and sweeping three-game midweek series with Mississippi Valley State.
Arkansas is hitting .265 with nine home runs and averaging 5.4 runs per game.
The Razorbacks’ second-leading hitter, junior Krijon Wilkerson, is a familiar name for MSU, having been a walkon wide receiver on the Bulldogs football team in 2010. He also spent the fall of 2011 as a walkon catcher for Cohen before transferring to Pearl River Community College that spring.
Wilkerson has started 18 games in his first season at Arkansas, hitting .295 with a home run and seven RBIs.
“He was a football guy who wanted to make the move (to baseball),” Cohen said. “I remember him being a great athlete but wasn’t a great baseball player yet. He needed to go get some at bats and figure out the game a little bit. I’ve seen him DH on TV and think he’s doing a great job for those guys.”
Tonight: Arkansas LHP Jalen Beeks (3-2, 1.56) vs. MSU RHP Preston Brown (3-0, 1.12)
Saturday: Arkansas RHP Trey Killian (1-3, 2.36) vs. MSU LHP Ross Mitchell (4-1, 1.66)
Sunday: Arkansas RHP Chris Oliver (2-2, 1.74) vs. MSU RHP Trevor Fitts (2-1, 3.13)