By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – There will be a big-time feel at Dudy Noble Field this weekend.
No. 5-ranked Mississippi State is hosting The Diamond Classic starting today and will play two games apiece against Purdue and Samford. Like the Bulldogs, both of those teams reached the NCAA tournament last season.
In fact, Samford (4-1) put MSU out with a pair of wins in the Tallahassee Regional. So there’s a revenge factor at work here.
More importantly for MSU, it wants to build on a 5-0 start, which included a four-game sweep of Portland last weekend.
“Not to take away from Portland, but it’ll be nice to play two real quality ball clubs (as we’re) preparing for SEC play,” MSU catcher Mitch Slauter said. “The big thing is we’re going to see some quality arms all weekend, and we’re going to see some bigger bats. It’ll help the pitching staff to see some bats that pose a real threat.
“It’s going to require focus all nine innings from everybody – everybody on the field and even everybody on the bench.”
MSU has been strong in every aspect so far. The pitching staff has a collective ERA of 0.60, while the hitters have posted a .329 batting average. In the field, the Bulldogs have made just one error.
Head coach John Cohen hasn’t sent as many pitchers to the mound as he’d have liked, and he wants to see even more offensive production. Otherwise, he’s got no complaints.
Slauter, who’s batting .538 with four RBIs, said a year of experience has made a huge difference for MSU’s offense.
“That’s a big deal when you have that year of experience under your belt and you’ve seen Division I-level pitching,” said Slauter, who hit .232 last season.
Cohen expects his pitchers and batters to be challenged this weekend, especially against Samford. The Bulldogs from Birmingham are led on the mound by C.K. Irby (1-0, 3.60 ERA), who’s also a designated hitter and is batting .563. Preseason All-American Phillip Ervin is hitting .429 with three home runs.
“They’re a very offensive club, they really know how to score runs,” Cohen said. “You’ve got to do the best you can trying to keep those guys from scoring a lot against you.”
MSU will play Purdue today at approximately 6 p.m., then faces Samford at 3 p.m. Saturday followed by another game with Purdue. MSU plays Samford again Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
Cohen will send sophomore left-hander Jacob Lindgren to the mound tonight.
Last year, Purdue won the Big Ten title, earned a No. 1 seed and hosted its first NCAA regional. The Boilermakers are 2-2 after spending opening weekend in Florida.