May 14, 2010 8:29:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- With two Southeastern Conference series remaining and chances of postseason play long exhausted, the Mississippi State Bulldogs haven''t packed it in.
Seniors want to finish their careers on a positive note and coaches want to continue first-year players'' integration into league play.
The Bulldogs (21-28, 5-19 SEC), fresh off an 8-5 win against Northwestern State that snapped a school-record 11-game losing streak, host No. 18 Vanderbilt (36-13, 12-10) this weekend.
"It makes it tough on everybody when you have some older guys who desperately want to play their last games and some young guys who need to get better," MSU coach John Cohen said Wednesday. "There''s still a lot these kids can do, and they know that."
Cohen lauded the team''s energy and focus during this week''s practices and said Wednesday''s win was "a tiny step for us but it''s a step we needed to make."
MSU hasn''t won an SEC series or league game since taking two of three from Tennessee during Super Bulldog Weekend.
As arduous as the losing stretch was for the team, the clubhouse atmosphere didn''t change, Russ Sneed said.
"It''s definitely been a challenge day in and day out lately," said Sneed, one of eight seniors on the squad. "The guys have been upbeat and everybody''s been working their tails off still."
Sneed said he and his teammates haven''t been completely fazed by the losses because of the fashion in which they''ve piled up.
"A lot of times, we''ve felt like we''ve been in the driver''s seat in a very competitive situation," Sneed said. "It''s not like you feel the pain and hurt of a loss whenever you''re not just getting pounded. We''ve actually been leading in a lot of the games."
Getting ahead of the Commodores this weekend could be difficult as VU has the SEC''s best pitching staff, which enters with a team ERA of 3.54.
Sophomore right-hander Sonny Gray, who will start tonight for Vanderbilt, is 6-4 with a 3.07 ERA. Saturday''s potential starters, Jack Armstrong and Tarylor Hill have ERAs under four.
Vanderbilt is on a seven-game winning streak after taking last weekend''s series from defending national champion LSU.
Vanderbilt downed No. 9 Louisville after sophomore third baseman Jason Esposito capped the 17-inning game with a one-run home run.
"The ability to come back three consecutive times. It was unbelievable," Commodores head coach Tim Corbin said Wednesday. "I don''t know if I''ve ever witnessed that before, especially with a good team like Louisville. Essentially we played two games. No one lost tonight. This was a very good baseball game."
MSU will start senior left-hander Tyler Whitney (0-3, 5.82 ERA) at 6:30 tonight, while the rotation''s only constant this season, freshman Chris Stratton (4-3, 5.97) will start Saturday.
Senior first baseman Connor Powers enters the series on a seven-game hitting streak. He leads the SEC with 64 RBIs.
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