March 25, 2011 8:54:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State baseball team''s win Sunday at Vanderbilt University has given the squad a ton of confidence.
After being shut out in the first two games of the series, MSU used a five-run eighth inning to rally for a 9-8 win against No. 1 Vanderbilt.
A loss in that game, especially another in which they struggled at the plate, could have been damaging, third baseman Jarrod Parks said.
"I had a feeling if we would have lost that game everybody might think, ''Here we go again'' from last year," Parks said. "We won that game, and everybody''s thinking we''ve got a shot at this. It gave us a lot of confidence."
MSU (15-6, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) will play host to No. 20 Auburn (14-7, 2-1) for a three-game series starting at 6:30 tonight. Junior right-hander Devin Jones (2-3, 3.03) will start for MSU, while Auburn will counter with junior left-hander Cory Luckie (1-1, 4.50).
Maintaining confidence from one win might be difficult, but when it has an added effect when it comes on the road against the nation''s top-ranked team.
"Our captains (Wes Thigpen and Jonathan Ogden) really did a good job of letting everyone know that game is huge," Parks said. " Picking up that one game on the road means a whole lot more than these young guys know."
MSU will have a chance this weekend to show the home fans a repeat of last season''s six-win league mark won''t happen. MSU coach John Cohen is confident the Bulldogs can navigate the next nine league games, six of which are at home, where he feels the Bulldogs are better suited offensively.
"I think we''re capable but are going to have to do it in a little bit of a non-traditional way by Mississippi State standards," Cohen said. "It''s going to have to be running, bunting, pressuring the defense, and doing it differently."
Auburn took two of three games from Arkansas last weekend in its league-opening series.
Auburn shortstop Casey McElroy, the SEC Player of the Week, is batting .409 with a team-high 20 RBIs. He was 8-for-13 with six RBIs against, and has hit safely in 16 games, the second-longest active hitting streak in the SEC.
Auburn blew a four-run lead in a 5-4 loss at Jacksonville State on Tuesday.
MSU enters the series with Brent Brownlee facing yet another injury. The junior outfielder stepped on a bag awkwardly at Vanderbilt and injured his foot. An X-ray was negative, but Cohen believes the injury could be a stress fracture.
"I don''t think it''s anything chronic, but we really don''t know," Cohen said. "I think at some point this weekend he''s going to be ready to play. We hope it''s (tonight)."
If Brownlee can''t go, the Bulldogs will be without one of their top defensive outfielders. Brownlee missed most of last season due to shoulder surgery. Cohen said the prospect of missing more games due to injury hasn''t affected Brownlee''s confidence.
"He''s had a great attitude about all the things he''s had to go through," Cohen said. "I think a lot of people would have thrown in the towel, but Brent''s a really tough kid and has worked at it pretty hard. He wants to play, and I think he''s going to battle through this."
Junior left-hander Nick Routt is a candidate to earn his second start of the season after CT Bradford didn''t make it out of the second inning against Vanderbilt and Evan Mitchell gave up five earned runs in 3 1/3 innings. Routt threw 25 pitches in a simulated game Tuesday and hasn''t felt any discomfort or soreness in his elbow. He might be limited to 65-70 pitches if he starts Sunday. He threw 48 pitches in his last outing.
"I think from the standpoint he''s done it before makes it a little more seamless if he did start," Cohen said. "The issue is how many pitches you''re gonna get out of him. Pitchers have to build into a pitch count. He''s got a good chance to pitch this weekend."