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No. 18 Diamond Rebs look to turn tide on MSU

Tyler Jackson/The Daily Mississippian

 

The past couple of seasons it seems Mississippi State has had Ole Miss’ number in just about every sport. However, this weekend presents an opportunity to reverse that trend as the No. 18 Rebels (27-14, 9-9 SEC) travel to Starkville to take on the Bulldogs (25-16, 8-10 SEC) in a pivotal Souteastern Conference matchup. 

Ole Miss is coming off a series win against No. 17 Arkansas this past weekend before dropping a midweek contest against Memphis on Tuesday, while Mississippi State is on a four-game winning streak with a sweep of Tennessee and a midweek win over Southern Miss in Pearl on Tuesday.

“It’s life in our league,” head coach Mike Bianco said of the Bulldogs. “Sometimes you play well, and sometimes you don’t. Right now, they’re playing well. They’re a team that’s playing well and scoring some runs, but the thing they’ve been able to do all year is pitch.”

The Rebels defeated the Bulldogs in the Governor’s Cup in Pearl earlier this season 6-3, but they know that doesn’t mean anything heading into the weekend. 

“This is a huge weekend for us,” senior first baseman Matt Snyder said. “We’re doing OK. We’re really excited about this series. We know how much this rivalry means, not just to us, but (to) the fans. It’s a deep-embedded rivalry. There’s a lot of blood in there. We want to get out there and do the best we can against those guys.

“We took one in Pearl from them, but they’re going to be ready. They’ve got a good pitching staff and good hitters. We’re going to have to be on our A-game, and we’re excited for that.” 

With a big series at home against LSU on the horizon, Snyder knows they can’t overlook a talented Bulldog team.

“They’ve won four in a row,” he said. “You have to look at that and know they’re a team that’s not just going to lay over. We lost Tuesday, so we have to make sure to forget about that and look at the first game. We’ve always been taught not to think about anything but the next game or the next practice. LSU has nothing to do with anything. No one is thinking about that. Everyone is thinking about State and getting ready for that.”

Mississippi State’s strength is their pitching staff that is headed by junior right-hander Chris Stratton, who will battle Ole Miss’ sophomore right-hander Bobby Wahl in Friday night’s contest. 

Stratton, who is the SEC leader in wins, is 7-0 on the year with a 2.71 earned run average in 66.1 innings pitched. He has also walked only 16 batters to go along with 88 strikeouts, which makes him tied for third in the country. Wahl, on the other hand, is 5-0 with a 2.15 earned run average in 54.1 innings of work to go along with 60 strikeouts.

“He’s taking a big step, I think, this year,” Bianco said. “He’s always been a great arm and a guy that we recruited and that everyone respected in the league. Like a lot of those guys do, I think he’s taken another step forward this year. His velocity has gone up a tick. His breaking ball is terrific. He’s been a force for them on Saturdays.”

The Rebels will throw sophomore right-hander Mike Mayers against junior right-hander Kendall Graveman for the Bulldogs Saturday. Mayers is 4-2 this season and boasts a 3.70 earned run average in 58.1 innings pitched. Graveman has accumulated a 3-2 record with a 2.92 earned run average in 61.2 innings pitched.

Both Ole Miss and Mississippi State have Sunday’s starter listed as to be announced.

At the plate, the Rebels hold the advantage with a .313 team batting average and an average of 6.2 runs per game. Mississippi State is hitting at a clip of .273 with an average of 4.9 runs per game.

Junior second baseman Alex Yarbrough and Snyder lead Ole Miss in hitting. Yarbrough is hitting .429 with three home runs and 38 RBI, while Snyder has a .368 average with 10 home runs and 45 RBI, which is a tie for lead in the conference. Senior shortstop Blake Newalu has improved his average over the past few weeks and is now hitting .371 in 62 at-bats this season.

For the Bulldogs, Adam Frazier leads the team with a .350 batting average to go along with 18 RBI. Daryl Norris is their only other hitter hitting over .300 with a .326 average, which includes 18 RBI. 

Today’s game will start at 7 p.m., while Saturday’s first pitch is set for 2 p.m., and both games will be televised by SportSouth. Sunday’s series finale is set for 1:30 p.m. and will be televised by CSS.

Huber available to pitch 

Last Sunday, Bianco said junior right-handed closer Brett Huber was injured with a tender elbow, but Huber threw a short bullpen at practice on Thursday and is expected to be ready to go for the weekend series.

“He’s good,” Bianco said of Huber. “This is the first time he’s thrown off the mound (since maybe) before last weekend. He’s good, so he’s ready to go this weekend. He’ll be with us.” 

Wahl named to USA Baseball National Collegiate Team

Sophomore right-hander Bobby Wahl has been selected to play for the USA National Collegiate Baseball team this summer, which was announced by USA Baseball on Thursday.