STARKVILLE – Mississippi State hopes its return to Omaha begins today.
The Diamond Dogs finished as the national runner-up at the College World Series last year and will begin their 2014 campaign by hosting Western Carolina in a three-game weekend series.
Game 1 is scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. start, followed by 4 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
State was initially slated to play Hofstra in a four-game set this weekend, but the Pride were unable to make the trip from New York after multiple flight attempts were cancelled by bad weather.
Western Carolina had its season opening four-game series at home against Ohio cancelled, leaving an open spot on the Catamounts’ schedule.
The Bulldogs were 51-20 last year and are ranked as highly as No. 2 in preseason polls. State returns 19 lettermen from 2013 and welcomes 19 newcomers to the roster.
Head coach John Cohen hopes his non-conference scheduling will allow his staff to figure out some of the holes left by nine players who signed professional contracts a year ago.
“I want to get as many people out there in game situations as possible,” Cohen said. “I remember my first time out there (at Dudy Noble Field). You have to get your feet wet, build and move beyond that. It’s important because you don’t want that to happen in conference play. You want the folks that are going to be playing in conference play to have good experience in the non-conference.”
The Diamond Dogs are 2-1 all-time against Western Carolina, with the last meeting coming in the 1989 South Regional in Starkville. MSU won that contest 8-0 while Cohen was still a player for the Bulldogs.
All three meetings against the Catamounts came in the 1987, 1988 and 1989 Regionals in Starkville.
Western Carolina went 39-20 last season, including a 14-8 record on the road. The Catamounts were unanimously predicted to win the Southern Conference title after winning the conference regular season championship last year.
Senior shortstop Aaron Attaway is a two-time Preseason All-American and also chosen as the SoCon’s Preseason Player of the year. Attaway led the conference with 97 hits last season and finished with a .363 batting average.
The Catamounts also feature the SoCon Preseason Pitcher of the Year, junior right-hander Jeremy Null. Null went 9-2 last season with a 3.46 earned run average with 109 strikeouts and only 27 walks over 91 innings of work.
Mississippi State will send out junior righty Brandon Woodruff to the mound as the opening-day starter.
The former Wheeler standout is returning from an arm injury that limited him to just seven outings last season.