STARKVILLE — In describing his first season as Mississippi State’s baseball coach as a series of “hoops to jump through,” Andy Cannizaro and the Bulldogs couldn’t escape a series of injuries that started in the fall and continued through the spring.
Cannizaro hopes to avoid a similar fate in 2017-18 when MSU will play what he calls a “makeshift kind of home schedule” due to the two-year renovation to Dudy Noble Field-Polk DeMent Stadium.
“It’ll all be in time for opening night of 2019,” Cannizaro said.
MSU announced in February its home-and-home series with Southern Mississippi. The series Feb. 16-18 will open the 2018 season for both teams in Hattiesburg.
The series will kick off three-straight weeks away from Starkville for the Bulldogs. Cannizaro told The Dispatch that MSU will spend the following week in a tournament in Corpus Christi, Texas. The event will feature a Friday through Sunday schedule. The ensuing Monday night, MSU will travel 150 miles south to Texas-Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV).
The team then will drive to Houston and have an off day on Tuesday, Feb. 27, before a Wednesday game against McNeese State in Lake Charles, Louisiana, just 150 miles east of Houston.
MSU will return to Houston after the game and prepare for the Shriner Hospitals for Children College Classic hosted by Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros and Minute Maid Park. The schedule for the event hasn’t been announced, but MSU will play three games against some combination of the following teams: Houston, Sam Houston State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt.
Cannizaro said MSU’s home schedule will begin March 9 against Utah Valley State. It will be MSU’s final non-conference weekend before opening Southeastern Conference play.
The 2018 non-conference schedule will be the first in MSU’s movement away from four-game weekends under Cannizaro. MSU has played at least two of those weekends in each season since 2010, including three last year and in 2015. Cannizaro’s plan for replacing the games lost in four-game weekends will be to add more midweek games, preferably earlier in the season.
For 2018, that could mean more road games, but Cannizaro has another idea.
“We’re going to try to do some neutral-site stuff,” Cannizaro said, “maybe in Pearl, in Biloxi, in Memphis, that kind of thing.”
The SEC schedule also will have some tweaks to accommodate the construction at Dudy Noble Field. MSU submitted a special request to the SEC this spring to alter its conference schedule in 2018.
Typically, SEC schedules feature alternating road and home weekends. Exceptions are made for a two-week road trip and a two-week homestand. MSU’s schedule will be made up exclusively of those two-week stints, meaning it will play two weeks at home and then two weeks on the road in that sequence for the entire schedule.
Cannizaro said the conference schedule would be formatted as such, but a SEC spokesperson said via email, “to aid Mississippi State’s construction schedule we were able to schedule one of those back-to-back road weekends early in the season.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson