Gators loom next for MSU Ole Miss hosts Georgia; Southern Miss travels to Memphis
Published 11:40 am Thursday, April 7, 2011
In the grand scheme of things, every game and every series counts the same. You can’t win or lose more than one at a time, and you can make up or lose ground the following weekend.
In reality, not all series are created equal. Some, such as Mississippi State’s three-game set against Florida that starts Friday night at Dudy Noble Field, take on a little extra importance.
The Gators come to town ranked fourth in all four major national polls and are tied for first place in the SEC East. They provide a challenge and an opportunity for Mississippi State to make a statement, as well as a chance for the Bulldogs to improve their own standing in a muddled Western Division race.
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Throw in an expected sellout crowd and the festivities associated with Super Bulldog Weekend and the football team’s spring game, and it’s clear there’s just a little more riding on these three games than normal.
“We can’t make it that way. Can’t go in nervous. We have to treat them like anybody else,” Mississippi State reliever Caleb Reed said. “In the SEC, it’s win every time. We can’t put extra pressure on us.”
Beyond pleasing the home fans, the series is a crucial one for the Bulldogs (20-9, 4-5 SEC). Alabama — which plays top-ranked Vanderbilt this weekend — enjoys a three-game lead in the SEC West, and the rest of the division is separated by just two games. Winning the series against Florida could allow Mississippi State to gain some ground on the Tide and separate from the pack.
It won’t be easy, though. Florida (24-6, 7-2) is in a three-way tie for first in the East with Vanderbilt and defending national champion South Carolina, with Georgia lurking one game behind. The Gators have already dropped a series against Carolina and have just as much to play for as Mississippi State.
The Gators also have some extra motivation after a surprising midweek loss to Central Florida on Tuesday. Add it to the wealth of talent they have, and MSU coach John Cohen said the Bulldogs have their work cut out for them.
“What Florida does well is everything,” Cohen said. “They really don’t have a weakness. They don’t beat themselves, you’re going to have to beat them.”
MSU has beaten itself lately, Cohen added. The Bulldogs scored only five runs while getting swept last weekend against Georgia, then got some help from four errors and a shaky Southern Miss bullpen to pull out a 5-4 victory Tuesday night at Trustmark Park.
Improving on its recent struggles will greatly enhance MSU’s chances of success this weekend and beyond, Cohen said.
“We’ve got to do better with runners in scoring position. Every other part of our game is coming along,” he said. “That’s one thing we have to get better at.”
Ole Miss faces
During the non-conference season, Georgia looked like an also-ran. Since beginning Southeastern Conference play, the Bulldogs have been a juggernaut.
Georgia heads to Ole Miss this weekend having won two of its three league series, including a sweep of Mississippi State last week. The Bulldogs are just one game out of first in the SEC East despite a .500 overall record entering a pair of midweek games against Charleston Southern.
Ole Miss, meanwhile, has struggled the last two weeks. It fell to Memphis, 9-2, on Tuesday and has lost four of its last five. The Rebels are tied for second place in the SEC West with Mississippi State and need a series victory to keep pace in a crowded division race.
USM not taking
It took one off night to erase six weeks of good feelings for Southern Miss.
The Golden Eagles committed four errors, managed only six hits and were done in by a shaky bullpen in a 5-4 loss to Mississippi State on Tuesday. It was the kind of effort coach Scott Berry said the team can ill afford as it tries to establish itself as a contender in Conference USA.
“Today is done,” Berry said after the loss to MSU. “We have to approach tomorrow as a new day. We have to understand we need to play better to win baseball games like this.”
Tomorrow actually begins Friday, when Southern Miss (22-6, 5-1 C-USA) heads north for a three-game series against Memphis (16-11, 1-2). It’s part of an awkward stretch of the schedule in which USM plays four consecutive midweek games against Southeastern Conference opponents, a non-conference series against New Orleans, and two second-tier league foes in Memphis and Marshall.
Despite Memphis’ mediocre record, however, USM coach Scott Berry isn’t taking the Tigers lightly. They routed Ole Miss on Tuesday and bring a four-game winning streak into the series.
“We’re going to go into Memphis, and they’re playing well. They’re a club that’s getting good,” Berry said. “Their weekend pitchers can really pitch.”