Preview: Alabama Opens Up Conference Play Against #15 Mississippi State
Alabama (9-6) got a few extra days of rest this week after Tuesday's doubleheader with Alabama A&M was postponed due to thunderstorms. The Crimson Tide needed the extra preparation ahead of its first SEC series of the season with Mississippi State (15-4) in Starkville.
The Bulldogs got off to a hot start this season by winning their first 13 games, but they are just 2-4 in their last six games, including a 3-1 loss to Western Kentucky on Wednesday night. Despite the recent struggles, expect Mississippi State to be on top of its game as conference play begins in this weekend's three-game series.
Part of Mississippi State's current success can be attributed to their lineup that is loaded with talent. They use multiple players to keep opposing pitchers on their toes. Shortstop Seth Heck, who happens to be their leading hitter, is the only player to start all 19 games for the Bulldogs this season. Head coach John Cohen knows he can trust a multitude of players to get on base especially since they lead the SEC in on-base percentage (.428).
The Bulldogs' hitting success has to be a concern for Mitch Gaspard heading into the series. The Crimson Tide did see improvement in last weekend's three game series with Lipscomb where they allowed a combined four hits in their wins on Friday and Sunday. However, Alabama still ranks near the bottom of the conference in team ERA (3.79). Gaspard is hopeful that starting pitchers Taylor Guilbeau, Will Carter, and Geoffrey Bramblett can get the job done.
Mississippi State's probable starting pitchers for this weekend are RHP Preston Brown, RHP Austin Sexton, and LHP Vance Tatum. Brown is 3-1 on the year with 27 strikeouts and a 1.93 ERA. Sexton has struck out 25 batters and currently has a 2.61 ERA. Tatum has allowed just 12 hits in 22 innings pitched and has a 1.99 ERA on the year. That staff will be challenged by the Crimson Tide's lineup, which includes one of the SEC's most dangerous trios in Casey Hughston, Mikey White, and Kyle Overstreet.
Alabama leads the all-time series 209-173-3, but the Bulldogs have won five of the last six matchups. Due to weather concerns, Friday's game has been pushed to Saturday as part of a doubleheader. The first game of the doubleheader will begin at 1:00 pm with the second game immediately following. Sunday's matchup is still scheduled to begin at 1:30 pm.