Bulldogs play Crimson Tide in key baseball series

MSU coach Gary Henderson
Staff Writer

There is still a few weeks left before the NCAA baseball postseason kicks into high gear.

As far as Mississippi State and Alabama are concerned though, this weekend’s series in Tuscaloosa between the two schools will likely have a playoff-like feel.

The Bulldogs (24-21, 9-12) and the Crimson Tide (23-23, 5-16) open a three-game set Friday night at 6 p.m. The weekend is scheduled to continue with a 6 p.m. game on Saturday and 3 p.m. encounter on Sunday.
The matchups will go a long way towards determining the fates of MSU and Alabama as both squads fight to make it to the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament and possibly more.

“It’s as important as it could be,” State interim head coach Gary Henderson said of this weekend’s series. “Every (SEC game) is important. You have 30 of them. There is a different feel depending on the week you’ve had, but they’re all important. We need to play well and win the series.”

Only the top 12 teams in the SEC advance to the league’s tournament. As things currently stand, the Bulldogs would be in the field, but Tennessee sits only one game behind MSU. Alabama is four games back. Missouri is also hovering near the bottom of the pack in the SEC as the Tigers sat with an identical record as State ahead of a Thursday night game at Georgia.

Two teams from the Mississippi State-Missouri-Tennessee-Alabama group are likely to miss out on the SEC Tourney. The Bulldogs are determined to make sure it’s not them sitting at home, but getting wins against Alabama will be vital to achieving that goal with tough series at Kentucky and home against top-ranked Florida remaining.

“We know what’s at stake,” MSU catcher Marshall Gilbert said. “We know we need to keep winning as many games as we can.”

State could be headed to Tuscaloosa at an opportune time as Alabama comes into this weekend having lost nine straight SEC games. The Crimson Tide was swept at Texas A&M, at home against Auburn and then at Arkansas.

However the Bulldogs are taking nothing for granted this weekend, believing Alabama is still dangerous.

“They have some power at the top,” Henderson said of the Crimson Tide. “They have two experienced starting pitchers and a very good left-handed bullpen. Overall, their bullpen is strong. They have a good core of left and right in the pen. They have an experienced front end, like I mentioned and they have a good bit of power.”

Meanwhile Mississippi State has been solid of late. Despite dropping two of three to Texas A&M last weekend, it is now 10-6 over its last 16 games after starting the season just 14-15. The Bulldogs are also 7-5 in their last dozen SEC contests after beginning the year 2-7 in league play.

“Everybody is sort of kicking it into gear because we’re seeing now that we have what it takes to perform at this level,” Gilbert said. “There was some question earlier within the team where it (wasn’t like that). We’d have a slow start. Some people like myself were new to what it takes to win SEC games. I think we’re starting to realize that we can do it.”

MSU will need to keep playing well if it hopes to avoid missing out on the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2015. Gilbert said the mantra for the games ahead is simple – just win.

“Whoever wins the most ballgames wins and we’re trying to go out there and win every single one that we can,” Gilbert said.

Konnor Pilkington (2-5, 3.04 ERA) and Ethan Small (5-3, 2.98 ERA) will continue to hold down the first two starting spots in the rotation for the weekend, while Sunday's starter will be determined.