The Mississippi State Bulldogs are safely in next week’s Southeastern Conference Tournament but NCAA hopes ride on the regular season final series beginning tonight against the second-ranked team in the nation, the Kentucky Wildcats.
Entering the action, State carries a 31-21 overall record and 13-14 mark in conference play with an rating performance index in the low to mid 40’s depending on which service you trust. With these facts in mind, the Bulldogs know they must play well this weekend to improve their chances of making a regional.
“We need to win two out of the three games, at least," said fourth-year MSU coach John Cohen. "We need to be able to do that. It is out in front of us and we can control our own destiny in a lot of ways and we are excited about the opportunity.”
If the Bulldogs are to have a successful weekend, it will likely lean on the usual arms of Chris Stratton, Kendall Graveman, and the guys out of the bullpen to get the job done. For the season, the MSU staff has a 2.70 earned run average, but over the last 15 games, they’ve been lights out with a 1.42 average.
The Ferriss Trophy winning Stratton takes the mound tonight leading the SEC in wins, ranking second in the league with 107 strikeouts and third with a 2.22 earned run average. It will be the 22nd career start at Dudy Noble Field for the Tupelo native. He’ll face Kentucky (41-12, 18-9) junior lefty Taylor Rogers (6-3, 4.60).
Junior righty Graveman (4-3, 2.69) pitches for State in Friday's televised game, working opposite Wildcat junior southpaw Jerad Grundy (4-2, 3.91).
State faces the league’s third-ranked offense with a .302 batting average and a SEC best 346 runs scored with 54 home runs.
“They have just done a great, great job of just getting players to believe in the process,” said Cohen. “The amazing thing about being in the coaching fraternity is that they are doing the same things that they were doing before but over the last three years, they’ve had extraordinarily bad luck.”
At the plate for the Bulldogs, Adam Frazier continues to lead the way as the only batter with an average above .300 at .357. The sophomore is 13-for-30 in his last eight game and is the only State player to start all 52 games.
Hunter Renfroe has also started to swing the bat well going 7-for-13 last weekend at Florida. The Bulldog centerfielder is riding a five-game hitting streak, tops on the squad.
Mississippi State is in a three-way tie for seventh in the league standings and a game back of second place in the SEC Western Division.
The Bulldogs could finish as high as the fifth-seed or as low as the 10th-seed for next week’s conference championship tournament in Hoover, Ala.
Tonight’s first pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. at Dudy Noble Field.