The Mississippi State Bulldogs returns to the road this weekend with a schedule trip to the plains to take on a Southeastern Conference Western Division foe in the 24th-ranked Auburn Tigers.
The Bulldogs (17-9, 2-4) send junior right-hander Chris Stratton to the hill carrying a 5-0 record and a 2.21 earned run average to match up against Auburn’s righty Derek Varnadore who enters the contest with a 1-2 record and a 4.23 ERA.
Auburn (15-10, 4-2) enters the weekend after taking two of three games from the LSU Tigers and are State’s third consecutive ranked SEC foe after matching up with No. 10 LSU and No. 3 Arkansas.
“Auburn is a great club,” said MSU head coach John Cohen. “They have really kind of found themselves in conference play. They really pitch well and their numbers are outstanding. Their overall offensive numbers are good, they love to run the bases, they love to steal, and they are a very solid club in our league.”
The Tigers are batting at a .305 clip while averaging 6.1 runs per game. From the mound, the Plainsmen have a 3.35 staff ERA and are holding opponents to just a .251 batting average.
Mississippi State on the other had has been paced by outstanding pitching and solid defense. MSU leads the Southeastern Conference and ranks second behind Miami, Ohio, with 33 double plays. State's pitching staff takes top honors in the league this week with 244 strikeouts, fourth-most in the NCAA to open the week.
Stratton leads the league with 53 punchouts, the fourth-best mark in the NCAA. At the plate, the Bulldogs have a .284 team batting average averaging 9.5 hits per contest. State’s hurlers have a 2.84 ERA and hold opponents to a mere .241 batting average.
With injuries mounting for Mississippi State, Cohen has turned to a sophomore to lead the way.
“Adam Frazier is just carrying the load,” Cohen said of his starting middle infielder who is batting at a .346 clip. “He is a sophomore guy who didn’t play a tremendous amount last year and he is a guy we are looking to as a seasoned veteran to carry the load for us on offense and defense. It will be nice when we get some more guys back, but that’s not where we are right now.”
There could also be a bit of good news for the Bulldogs as Cohen mentioned on Thursday that Ben Bracewell could return to the mound this weekend with a possible opportunity to see action on Saturday in combination with Nick Routt.
The Bulldogs and the Tigers have evenly split their 30 games over the last 10 years, with Mississippi State earning a three-game sweep of the 2011 series at Dudy Noble Field. State's last series win at Auburn was a two-of-three MSU showing in 2004.
First pitch is slated for 6 p.m. at Plainsmen Park in Auburn, Ala.