The Southeastern Conference home opener is at hand for the Mississippi State Bulldogs as they get set to host third-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks inside Polk-Dement Stadium tonight.
Mississippi State opened the SEC salvaging the Sunday win over LSU while the Hogs swept the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Arkansas enters the weekend riding a 10-game win streak, including a 10-2 win over Nevada on Wednesday night. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, had their midweek outing washed away with the rains, but it gave State a chance to heal some of the bumps and bruises the club is suffering and setting the table for a great SEC showdown.
“This is just another great weekend in the SEC, getting to play another great team in Arkansas,” said MSU head coach John Cohen. “We go from playing an outstanding LSU team to a phenomenal Arkansas club. That’s just the thrill, the joy of playing in the SEC.”
Taking the hill for the Bulldogs tonight will be Chris Stratton, who earned National Player of the Week honors after striking out 17 Tigers in the SEC opener. The junior right hander is 4-0 for the season with a 2.12 earned run average and leads this league with 44 strikeouts. His counterpart will be D.J. Baxendale who is tied for the SEC lead in wins with a 5-0 record and a 2.30 ERA.
“I think those are two of the better guys in our league,” said Cohen. “Friday nights in our league are really exciting. When you turn the lights on and you have big-time talent on the mound, it is just fun to watch. Baxendale is the real deal and we feel Stratton is in that same category.”
Matt Reynolds leads Arkansas at the dish with a .366 batting average, three home runs and 16 RBI. He’s followed by Tim Carver who is batting .338 with 12 RBI and a team-leading 10 stolen bases.
On Saturday, sophomore righty Ryne Stanek gets the ball for Arkansas and face MSU lefty Nick Routt. Like Baxendale, Stanek is tied for the league lead in wins with a 5-0 record and a 1.52 ERA. Junior southpaw Randall Fant picks up the Sunday start opposite of Kendall Gravemen who is coming off a complete-game win for the Bulldogs over LSU.
MSU sophomore shortstop Adam Frazier carries a .348 batting average into the weekend, having hit safely in 19 of 22 games this season. The Bishop, Ga., product leads the club and ranks fourth in the SEC with 32 hits, including 10 doubles.
The Bulldogs, who have been decimated by injuries in the early portion of the season, will once again send several new faces to the field to face Arkansas for the first time in their careers. In fact, only Frazier and Hunter Renfroe faced the Hogs last season.
Tyler Fullerton is the newest face to be injected into the MSU lineup. Last week, the freshman outfielder went 7-for-17 (.417) in his first week as a starter for the Bulldogs. He joins Phillip Casey as freshmen who have been pressed into action over the past two weeks.
The action begins with tonight's first pitch slated for 6:30 p.m. at Dudy Noble Field. Saturday's game is set for a 2 p.m. start while the Sunday series finale begins at noon and will be televised by SportSouth. Dave Neal and Larry Conley describe the action as FOX Sports launches its 10-game SEC regular season baseball coverage for 2012.