Opening day of college baseball is finally here for Mississippi State fans.
MSU head coach John Cohen and his group of Diamond Dawgs are set to host Pac-12 foe, Washington State in a three-game series this weekend with first pitch slated for 6 p.m. at Dudy Noble Field.
Mississippi State will be looking to improve upon a 38-25 record from last season, a season that saw them reach the NCAA Super Regionals in Gainesville, Fla., and if the Bulldogs are to improve, they’ll do so behind a veteran pitching staff.
State returned 14 of the 16 hurlers who saw action last season including MSU closer and preseason All-American Caleb Reed.
The Bulldog righty led the team with a 1.55 earned run average last season to go with his club best 12 saves.
The weekend rotation for the Bulldogs features six Southeastern Conference quality arms with right-hander Ben Bracewell earning the opening day start.
“I really try to look outside of myself and listen to what other’s tell me so I can see things that I may have missed," MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson said. "My catchers reinforced what I felt about Ben. He really has all the tools to be good in this league and he has earned the right to get the start.”
State will follow a script as much as the game will allow this weekend with junior righty Chris Stratton following Bracewell to the mound tonight. The thought is to get each hurler roughly four innings of work before turning the game over to the closers.
On Saturday, the plan remains the same with Nick Routt and Evan Mitchell being the planned hurlers for the Bulldogs. On Sunday, Kendall Graveman gets the start followed by the variety of MSU pitchers that haven’t seen action up to that point.
At the plate, the Bulldogs scored on average six runs per game while batting .281 for the season. This season the coaching staff has strong reason to believe this has the potential to be an improved offensive team, but at this point it is just potential.
State has just two players who have seen significant action at the SEC level, C.T. Bradford and Brent Brownlee. Both are healthy and have had a good two weeks of preseason work.
Several newcomers will factor into the batting order as well as defensive alignment with outfielder-pitcher Brandon Woodruff, second baseman-shortstop Matthew Britton, first baseman Wes Rea and catcher Mitch Slauter headlining the group.
As for their opposition, don’t sleep on the Cougars.
Washington State is an athletic ball club with big game experience on its side.
The Cougars missed the post season in 2011 for the first time in three years with an overall record of 26-28. However, in 2010 they pushed Arkansas to the limit in NCAA Regional play.
Washington State is paced at the plate by Taylor Ard, who is projected to be a top MLB draft pick this summer. He hit .337 last season with 10 home runs and 55 RBI.
Fans can expect to see the Cougars be aggressive at the plate, swinging early in the count and running the base paths with urgency. Much like MSU they will look to be the aggressors in each game.
On the mound, sophomore right-hander J.D. Leckenby sets the tone for WSU. He competed out of the pen most of last season with a 2.28 ERA in 27.2 innings pitched with just five strikeouts.
Leckenby will be followed by junior college transfer, Kyle Swannack, who had a 9-0 record last season with 66 strikeouts in 76.2 innings of work.
On Sunday, the Cougars send freshman Tanner Chleborad to the hill. The interesting note on this righty is that he is from South Dakota where they don’t play high school baseball. He was found by the WSU staff playing travel baseball and will see his first collegiate action this weekend.
First pitch is set for 6 p.m. for the season opener followed by 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.
State fans may also want to monitor the weather as there is a chance of playing a doubleheader on Sunday if rain forces Saturday's game to be postponed.