STARKVILLE — Mississippi State’s baseball team has no choice now. If a seaon-saving turnaround is going to happen, it’s going to have to happen on the road.
That’s where three of MSU’s final four Southeastern Conference weekend series will be played, starting with a visit tonight to Arkansas (24-17, 9-9) to open a three-game set with the Razorbacks.
At 22-19 overall and 6-12 in the SEC, MSU finds itself in need of a series win away from home. That’s just fine with the Bulldogs.
“We like going on the road,” said MSU second baseman John Holland. “It’s good sometimes to get out of your routine and do something different. On the road, youre schedule is different, you’re obviously staying in a different place. That’s where you really come together with your teammates. We just have to make sure we win on the road.”
That hasn’t come easy for the Bulldogs this season. Then again, there haven’t been that many opportunities to showcase the ability to win away from home for the Bulldogs. After starting the season with a lengthy 23-game homestand, the Bulldogs have played just eight true road games, and MSU is 2-6 in those trips. Throw in a 3-0 loss to Southern Miss in a neutral-site game in Pearl on March 24, and MSU’s record away from Starkville is 2-7. In MSU’s two SEC trips, the Bulldogs have lost two-of-three games both times, first at Kentucky and then at Texas A&M.
Of the Bulldogs’ remaining 16 games, only three – next weekend’s series against No. 1 LSU – are in Starkville, meaning any postseason push by MSU will likely need to come from trips to Arkansas, to Ole Miss and to Tennessee to close out the regular season.
For MSU to reach at least .500 in league play, the Bulldogs would have to win nine of their remaining 12 league games. But first things first.
This weekend, the Bulldogs will have to face an Arkansas team that enters as one of the hottest in the SEC. Last weekend, the Razorbacks went into College Station, Texas and took two games against then-No. 1 Texas A&M. The Aggies had lost just three games on the season prior to the visit from Arkansas. The Razorbacks, who are hitting .296 as a team with 39 home runs on the season, scored 17 runs in the final two games in College Station, earning a 9-8 win in Game 2 and an 8-2 win in the series clincher.
Back home in Fayetteville, Cphen knows the Razorbacks will enjoy a distinct home field advantage over the Bulldogs.
“It’s a unique place,” said Cohen. “Arkansas is one of the really great environments, one of the best environments in this league.”
After dropping its first two SEC series of the season – to Eastern Division leader Vanderbilt and Western Division co-leader LSU – Arkansas has bounced back and won four straight series, which included wins over Ole Miss, Kentucky, Auburn and Texas A&M. By contrast, MSU has won just one SEC series this season, taking two of three from South Carolina two weeks ago.
Of Arkansas, Cohen says “They are a really good Southeastern Conference baseball team. They have great arms and they can hit. It’s a challenge just like every other team in this league.”
Senior Lucas Laster (4-3, 3.11 ERA) will make his fourth consecutive series-opening start for MSU. He is 1-2 in starts against South Carolina, Texas A&M and Florida. Arkansas will counter in tonight’s game with junior righthander Trey Killian, who is 1-3 with a 5.97 ERA.
First pitch is set for 6:35 p.m.