Razorbacks gave Bulldogs a wakeup call back in March

MSU's Brent Rooker
Staff Writer

It was an eye-opening experiences for a group of young Mississippi State Bulldogs back in March.
In the first Southeastern Conference series of the season, MSU was swept on the road by the Arkansas Razorbacks.
What the Razorbacks didn’t know that weekend was they did the Bulldogs a favor.
Losing three games in Fayetteville, Ark., was just the wakeup call MSU needed to go on an impressive run in the SEC.
“I think that first weekend at Arkansas really opened our eyes for the amount of commitment, effort and focus that it takes to win in this league,” State coach Andy Cannizaro said. “Our guys came out of the Arkansas series knowing what the league is about. This is our blueprint and what we have to do to have success.”
The Bulldogs ended up winning 17 league games and reached first place in the Western Division with two weeks left in regular season play.
Even though MSU eventually finished third in the West, it was pleased with the progress this season.
The Bulldogs (35-22) go into Thursday’s 9:30 a.m. matchup against the Razorbacks in the Southeastern Conference Tournament believing they have a much better team.
“We like to think we are a completely different team than the last time we played Arkansas,” MSU first baseman Brent Rooker said. “It was our first SEC series and the first taste for a lot of our guys what the league was like, especially with the atmosphere like it was at Baum Stadium.
“It’s cool to see where we are and how far we’ve come as a team from the last time we played those guys. We know they’ve done the same thing and improved all year. They’ve got two starters with good arms and good bats throughout the lineup. We look forward to seeing how far we’ve come by playing those guys.”
Arkansas finished ahead of State in the standings with an 18-11 record and stands 39-15 overall.
It’s no secret what makes the Razorbacks go. They lead the SEC in home runs with 70 and are second in the conference with a .448 slugging percentage.
“They are strong, physical and hit home runs,” Cannizaro said. “The most important thing is getting ahead of the count. Strike one is very important against these guys. (MSU pitching) Coach (Gary) Henderson does an outstanding job with our pitching staff in getting them to pitch down in the zone at all times. We certainly have our hands filled with those guys.”
The Bulldogs are coming off a 3-0 victory over Georgia on Wednesday.
MSU got eight strong innings pitched by Konnor Pilkington and three hits from Rooker, including his 21st home run of the season.
Cannizaro just likes how far his team has come since the opening the conference schedule in March.
“We talked about our youth and inexperience when we faced Arkansas that first SEC weekend,” Cannizaro said. “I think offensively we have a lot of guys who have really grown as hitters.”
Bulldogs like Hunter Vansau and Elijah MacNamee have emerged to help out veterans like Rooker, Ryan Gridley and Jake Mangum.
Mangum is anxious to get another chance against Arkansas Thursday.
“A lot of guys have matured in the roles they’ve had to have this year,” Mangum said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun (Thursday).”