April 10, 2009
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State baseball team needs to make up some ground in a hurry if it is to avoid the fate it endured last season.
Ever since John Cohen took over for Ron Polk, his goal has been to avoid a repeat of last season, when the Bulldogs finished 22-33 and 9-21 in the Southeastern Conference.
MSU (18-15, 4-8 SEC) showed some signs of life this week in victories against the University of Alabama-Birmingham (10-0) and Southern Miss (7-6). It will try to build on that momentum this weekend at Tennessee (13-20, 1-11).
Despite losing two of three games to Auburn last weekend at home, Cohen has been encouraged by what he is seeing on the field.
"I really like the effort the kids are giving," Cohen said. "They are really buying into all of the things we are trying to do. We do our share of things that are not smart at times, but we do it aggressively."
The three-game against the Volunteers begins at set 6 p.m. today and continues at noon Saturday and Sunday. Fox SportsNet South will televised the series.
MSU left-hander Tyler Whitney (2-2, 3.89 ERA), a Memphis area native, will start game one.
"This is a big weekend for us," Whitney said. "Tennessee is probably not having the type of season they expected and we''re not playing as well as we wanted to either, but we can really get back in the mix of things by winning a couple of games here."
Whitney said he was a big Tennessee fan growing up, so the series will be special for him.
Freshman left-hander Nick Routt (4-1, 2.83) will start game two, while the third starter is yet to be determined. It could be senior right-hander Chad Crosswhite (0-3, 7.27), who just threw 64 pitchers in the win against Southern Miss.
Russ Sneed (.371 batting average) and Connor Powers (nine home runs, 36 RBIs) lead MSU.
Tennessee coach Todd Raleigh believes MSU can break out at any time and play like the team that made it to the College World Series two years ago.
"Mississippi State has been struggling a little bit, but still has a good team," Raleigh said. "They''ve got some good hitters no question with (Ryan) Duffy, (Grant) Hogue, and Powers. It''s going to be a battle this weekend, but, at the same time, I feel we may have turned the corner a little bit.
"I''m kind of excited about this weekend and the rest of the way if we can keep this team on the field and stay healthy."
Aaron Tullo (1-4, 5.59) will start tonight for Tennessee.