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Thursday night in SEC: MSU, Tennessee begin series

April 18, 2012

MSU baseball coach John Cohen, left, shouts from the dugout earlier this season. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)

Super Bulldog Weekend gets underway for the Bulldog tonight as the Diamond Dawgs host the Tennessee Volunteers for the ESPN/SEC Baseball Game of the Week.

All State fans are encouraged to wear white for the “white-out” night at Dudy Noble Field as Chris Stratton takes the mound looking for his Southeastern Conference leading eighth win of the season. Before Stratton gets the baseball, MSU men's basketball coach Rick Ray will toss the ceremonial first pitch.

Stratton, a right-hander for the Bulldogs, carries a 2.98 earned run average into the outing. He leads the league and stands third nationally with 78 strikeouts through nine appearances this season. The Tupelo native has positioned himself to become the first MSU hurler to reach the 100-strikeout plateau since former first-round draft pick Paul Maholm fanned 101 back in 2003.

The Bulldogs enter the weekend in 11th place in the SEC with a 5-10 record but head coach John Cohen doesn’t feel this series is a make-or-break one for his club.

“It is not life or death this weekend, but you make things increasingly more difficult for yourself down the stretch if you don’t play well this weekend,” said Cohen. “We certainly need to play well, but there are plenty of opportunities to get things done.

“It is just the little things. We’ve got to evaluate pitches better. We’ve got to be mentally tougher. We are a beaten up club, but if you’ve got real mental toughness, you can overcome that. Right now, we’re not overcoming it.”

It is no secret the Bulldogs are battered and bruised entering this weekend with Daryl Norris, Brent Brownlee, and Adam Frazier all fighting knee injuries, but Cohen feels his team can find the mental toughness they must have in order to get back on track this season.

“The only thing that we have left is mental toughness,” he said. “That’s something we have to recapture to get through all of this.”

Despite battling injuries, Norris and Frazier are leading MSU at the plate with .361 and .347 batting averages respectively. As a team, the Bulldogs are hitting just .268 and turned in a season high for strikeouts in Tuesday night’s loss to Ole Miss with 16 punchouts.

Frazier also paces MSU with 51 hits, 30 runs scored and 29 walks and shares (with first baseman Wes Rea) for the club lead with 11 doubles. Rea, from Gulfport, paces State with 14 extra-base hits, 28 RBI and leads the SEC with 388 defensive chances. Frazier and Rea are the lone Bulldogs to have started all 37 games this season.

The Volunteers (22-15, 7-8) counter with righty Zack Godley in the series opener who owns a 4-2 record with a 3.81 ERA. He’ll be joined out of the bullpen by Drew Steckenrider.

State swept last year's series with Tennessee in Knoxville (16-5, 5-3, 5-2) and hold a 50-25 overall lead in a series that got its start in 1917.

The start times for tonight and Friday are set for 6:30 p.m. at Dudy Noble Field with the series finale on Saturday at 1 p.m.

Following tonight's opener, there will be postgame fireworks display located near Chadwick Lake.

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