MSU OPENS CRUCIAL SEC HOME STRETCH
By Chris Burrows
Like any high-stakes horse race, the Mississippi State Bulldogs have put themselves in great position as the 12-team SEC field enters the home stretch.
“We’ve got six straight home games and it’s obvious to say those games are critical,” said head coach Ron Polk, whose club (30-14, 13-8) hosts Arkansas (34-12, 11-10) at 7 p.m. today. “Of course when everybody gets to this point of the season, they’re all critical games and big series.”
That applies to Ole Miss (20-23, 3-18), coming off a road series win against Alabama. The Rebels host Auburn (26-16, 9-12), a club that clearly needs a series win to keep postseason hopes intact. The Rebels hope to continue the spoiler role, with impending series against Arkansas and Mississippi State.
“I was talking to (LSU head coach) Skip (Bertman) on the phone last night and he believes Arkansas is a truly outstanding club, one of the best in the nation. We’ve got our work cut out for us.
“But we’re at home for them and Ole Miss and realistically, if we win four of the next six games at home, I’ll consider that taking care of our business,” Polk said. “But taking four out of six, especially from those teams, won’t be easy.”
The Razorbacks are led by All-SEC second baseman Kenderick Moore, who hits .406 and ranks among the top three in hits, runs scored and on-base percentage. First baseman Ryan Lundquist is bidding for the league’s top freshman honors, hitting .364 after homering twice in the LSU series.
The Bulldogs have been finding new offensive heroes in each series. Against Auburn, Adam Piatt (.350) continued to swing a hot bat. Earlier in the week, a sweep over Southern Mississippi was highlighted by outfielder Ben Jenkins (.315), who had the game-winning hits in both games.
The consistency has been provided by the pitching staff. The rotation of Eric DuBose (7-3), David Hooten (7-5) and Keith Dilgard (3-2) is backed by the bullpen work of Van Johnson (5-1, 2.29 ERA, 3 saves) and Scott Polk (3-1, 1.90 ERA, 1 save).
Auburn at Ole Miss: The Rebels, who are an impressive 17-5 in non-conference play, hope to keep the improved play going against the Tigers. Slick-fielding second baseman Keith Lewis was the SEC Player of the Week, hitting .583 against Alabama and .500 for the past week against all foes.
The Rebels are led by first baseman Todd Mensik (.310) and transfer catcher Page Echols (.289). On the mound, left-hander Mike Rodgers (1-1) and right-hander Mickey Callaway (5-6) provide a solid one-two punch.