STARKVILLE, Miss. - After closing out the first half of the 10-weekend SEC baseball season with back-to-back series wins, No. 10 Mississippi State (30-9/8-7 SEC) welcomes Western Division rival Auburn (23-14/5-10 SEC) to Dudy Noble Field for this year’s Super Bulldog Weekend series at Dudy Noble Field.
A national television audience will be looking on during Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. series-opener, with ESPNU televising the game as part of the SEC’s Thursday Night Game of the Week series. Fans attending Thursday’s opener will be given a special Bulldog Baseball “white-out” T-shirt in a promotion sponsored by Chevron and will later be treated postgame to a Super Bulldog Weekend fireworks display.
Senior lefty Luis Pollorena (6-1, 3.02), making his fourth start since joining MSU’s starting weekend rotation in late March, will open on the mound for the Bulldogs. Auburn’s pitching rotation for the weekend has not been announced.
The series continues Friday with a 6:30 p.m. game televised by Comcast before concluding Saturday with a 4 p.m. contest. The radio broadcast of all three games of the MSU-Auburn series will be carried on the statewide MSU Baseball Radio Network and available online to HailStateTV subscribers (www.hailstate.com/hstvlive). Live HD video streaming of Saturday’s series finale will also be available to HailStateTV subscribers (Thursday and Friday not available due to television coverage).
John Cohen’s fifth Mississippi State diamond edition has won seven of its eight games in April, including last week’s 4-0 showing that featured a midweek Governor’s Cup win over instate SEC rival Ole Miss in Pearl, Miss., and the team’s first three-game SEC series sweep of the season, a 3-0 run against Texas A&M in College Station, Texas.
The 30-9 record is State’s best since the 1999 Diamond Dogs, coached by Pat McMahon, checked in at 31-8, while the 1970, 1979 and 1989 MSU editions lead the way with 32-7 records at the 39-game mark.
The mid-season success has boosted the Bulldogs in the polls. State is now ranked as high as 10th (USA TODAY Sports coaches’ poll) and has moved back into the thick of SEC and NCAA postseason tournament picture. State begins this week’s competition in a tight four-way tie for fourth place in the league’s overall standings and sporting the SEC’s third-highest national RPI rating, No. 10 by Warrennolan.com.
State junior outfielder Hunter Renfroe (.429) continues to pace the Bulldogs on offense. A .571 (8x14), three-home run showing last weekend at Texas A&M helped net SEC Player of the Week honors for the Crystal Springs, Miss., native. With 13 circuit blasts Renfroe shares the SEC home run lead and ranks tied for second in the NCAA in homers. He also leads the NCAA with a .865 slugging percentage.
Solid play on defense and the mound have also played key roles in State’s success.
Mississippi State turned six double plays in the series at Texas A&M, raising the Bulldogs’ SEC and NCAA-leading total to 52.
On the mound, sophomore relief ace Jonathan Holder (1-0, 1.85, 11 saves) continues to scale State’s single season and career saves charts after a two-save weekend at Texas A&M. Holder’s 11 saves this spring ranks as the fifth-most in a season, two off the single-season record (13) shared by Scott Tanksley (1994) and Van Johnson (1997). His 20 saves in 1-1/2 seasons ranks fourth among MSU’s career leaders, one behind Caleb Reed’s 21 (2009-12). At TAMU senior righty Kendall Graveman (5-2, 2.15) notched his third consecutive nine-inning complete-game win in league play. Graveman and Luis Pollorena (6-1, 3.02) have combined for five of MSU’s 12 quality starts this season over the past three weekends.
With 23 roundtrippers, MSU begins the weekend ranked third in the SEC in home runs. In last weekend’s series sweep at Texas A&M junior infielder Alex Detz (.322) and senior catcher Nick Ammirati (.286) became the seventh and eighth 2013 Diamond Dogs to homer. Ammirati’s career-first blast was also the first grand slam by a Bulldog since Jonathan Ogden (2011). One of seven weekend hits by sophomore first baseman Wes Rea (.311) was his third home run of the year.
The Bulldogs have just seven regular season home dates remaining following the Auburn series. State hosts Alabama (May 3-5), first-time foe Oral Roberts (May 14), and in another Thursday-through-Saturday series, South Carolina (May 16-18). Next week MSU heads to the Volunteer State for games at Memphis (Apr. 23) and Vanderbilt (Apr. 26-28).