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MSU, Ole Miss set for key SEC baseball series

 

David Miller

 

STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State baseball team will carry the momentum of a six-game winning streak into its series against the University of Mississippi.  

 

With both teams tied for second place in the Southeastern Conference''s Western Division, it''s fitting Ole Miss enters the matchup coming off a series win against No. 1 South Carolina.  

 

"They''re feeling like they''re on a roll," MSU coach John Cohen said Wednesday. "They''re just finishing up exams, so that''s always an exciting time for your club when they get the academic stuff behind you a little bit." 

 

The three-game set, which begins at 6:30 tonight (ESPNU) at Oxford-University Stadium in Oxford, will help determine whether the Bulldogs (30-18, 11-13) and/or the Rebels (27-21, 11-13) finish in the top eight in the SEC to qualify for the SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala. 

 

"All of them are very aware of the fact that there''s a nice rivalry between these schools," Cohen said. "I think they''re all very aware of the NCAA and SEC tournament implications." 

 

Luis Pollorena (6-3, 2.61) will get his second start of the season tonight for MSU, which is coming off a series sweep at Tennessee.  

 

Matt Crouse (6-4, 3.72) will start for Ole Miss.  

 

MSU beat Ole Miss 6-1 in the Governor''s Cup in Pearl on April 19. The Rebels had six hits and only seven total bases in the loss. 

 

Ole Miss scored 17 runs in its two wins against South Carolina. 

 

The biggest difference this weekend could be the long ball. The Rebels are tied for the SEC lead in home runs with 39. They hit three against the Gamecocks. 

 

Shortstop Jonathan Ogden has seven of MSU''s 22 home runs.  

 

Ole Miss'' field dimensions don''t differ that much Dudy Noble Field, considered one of the larger parks in the SEC. MSU''s right-field line is four feet shorter, but in the gaps Dudy Noble are nine to 11 feet longer.  

 

The dimensions, though, are enough to make the home run more of a staple at Swayze Field than at Dudy Noble, where MSU has been successful emphasizing the running game.  

 

Cohen said the Rebels are "a more physical team than we are" and believes his pitchers must be conscious of Ole Miss'' power lineup.  

 

"If the wind is blowing out really hard, I think in some cases that can be an advantage for Ole Miss," Cohen said. "I think you''re a little bit more aware of your delivery and trying to create a little bit more movement, locating pitches down in the zone, depending on conditions. We were at Tennessee, and the wind was blowing in, and we could be more aggressive in the strike zone at times and get fly balls.  

 

"If they hit the home run, it seems to ignite their offense." 

 

Both teams have key players injured. Matt Smith, Ole Miss'' home run leader and third-best hitter, will miss the series due to a fractured finger suffered against Arkansas State on May 4. He could return next weekend against Arkansas.  

 

MSU outfielder Brent Brownlee, who didn''t play Tuesday in a victory against Mississippi Valley State, is nursing a knee injury he suffered Sunday at Tennessee. Cohen wasn''t clear about how much Brownlee would play in the Ole Miss series, but he said he''d be important against left-handed pitching.  

 

MSU shortstop Jonathan Ogden (abdomen) played two of three games at Tennessee, and was noticeably more mobile in Sunday''s game, Cohen said. The key for Ogden will be assessing his pain level and the offensive matchups.  

 

"It''s just tough to know," Cohen said. "There''s times when he''ll come up and say he''s feeling great; there''s times where he''ll be struggling with it. He''s not one to complain, and he wants to play every single day. But we gotta manage that because if he''s not at his best we feel like (Adam) Frazier is a very valuable option, especially against right-handed pitching.  

 

"Do I think Ogden is our best matchup there at shortstop? I would say absolutely if he''s a 100 percent healthy. "

 

 

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