April 2, 2010 10:14:00 AM
STARKVILLE - The search for a consistent offense continues for the Mississippi State baseball team entering a Southeastern Conference series at South Carolina.
Mississippi State (14-11, 2-4 SEC) enters the series following a 5-3 loss to Ole Miss at Pearl on Tuesday, a game which the Bulldogs managed just six hits.
The offsensive struggles have seen Mississippi State strike out an SEC-leading 206 times this year.
MSU has the task of trying cutting down on its strikeouts against a South Carolina pitching staff that leads the SEC with 263 strikeouts.
Mississippi State coach John Cohen doesn''t put much stock in those statistics as the team''s are entering its third SEC series of the season.
Still, Cohen doesn''t argue that the Gamecocks have a wealth of experience in today''s starter Blake Cooper and Saturday''s starter Sam Dyson, both of whom started NCAA regional games last season. They are a combined 6-0 with sub-4.00 ERAs.
"The non-league stuff doesn''t matter when you''re deciphering numbers, but they''re good pitchers, though," Cohen said. "These guys are older guys who''ve pitched in the league, so it will be a challenge."
MSU and South Carolina are scheduled to play at 6 p.m. today, 3 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
Adversely, Mississippi State''s inexperience throughout its lineup has been a source of frustration this season. But as Cohen admits his team, "Is giving all its effort" at the plate. He believes time and more at-bats in the league are the only answers for its offensive woes.
"What you''ve got is a bunch of guys who haven''t played in the SEC," Cohen said. "You''re talking about a pure freshman at second, at short and at third, and Jaron (Shepherd) in the outfield, who haven''t played at this level," Cohen said. "You have to have that two-strike approach, but as time goes on they''ll improve in that."
South Carolina (20-5, 5-1) enters the series coming off a 10-1 win against The Citadel in which it hit five home runs. That win came after winning last weekend''s series against Auburn, though the Gamecocks had a 13-game winning streak snapped Sunday.
One game ahead of Florida in the SEC Eastern Division, South Carolina enters the series with a Top 20 RPI and gives Mississippi State another quality opportunity to strengthen its postseason credentials and stay afloat in the SEC West.
Despite the Gamecocks'' midweek offensive fireworks and their ranking, South Carolina coach Ray Tanner admits his lineup isn''t completely settled.
"I''ve had a hard time recently putting together the middle of our order," Tanner said. "(Christian) Walker is still a freshman going through some growing pains. Jeffrey Jones has done a good job in his limited opportunities, but I think he''s in a position right now to catch up in his at-bats.
"Really, I''ve tried to do some matchups and make some decisions based on the last couple of games. The good news is I''ve got some choices. But still, we''ll be at the halfway point Sunday and we still don''t know what our best lineup is."
Mississippi State will stick with the same pitching rotation from last weekend''s series win against Georgia as freshmen Kendall Graveman will start today, followed by Chris Stratton on Saturday. Similar to last weekend, Cohen will make a decision on Sunday''s starter depending on what arms he hasn''t used today and Saturday. Last weekend, Chad Girodo got the start on Siunday.
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4. Local academy baseball players earn all-state honors HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS