A year after Southern Miss swept Mississippi State in Hattiesburg to begin the 2018 season, the Bulldogs get their turn on home turf this weekend.
USM and Mississippi State are set for a 2 p.m. first pitch on Friday in Game 1 of a three-game series at newly-renovated Dudy Noble Field in Starkville. Game 2 is at noon on Saturday and Game 3 will follow at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Both teams stand at 3-0 after Mississippi State rolled over Youngstown State and USM handled Purdue with three come-from-behind victories.
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USM junior outfielder/pitcher Matt Wallner had a strong showing at the plate against Purdue, but it’s still unclear when he’ll be able to pitch and play the field this weekend after suffering a strain in his right forearm just prior to the start of the season.
Wallner started all three games last week as a designated hitter, hitting .417 with a homer, four runs and five RBIs.
“He’s kind of day-to-day,” USM coach Scott Berry said. “We’re not going to push it with his arm at all. One good thing is he has a presence in the batting order. You saw that in Sunday’s game with five RBI. He’s a really good player and he’ll be back out there in the field at some point.”
Future unclear for MSU-USM
Berry said Wednesday that the two baseball programs have yet to commit to future games, but he hopes that will change soon.
“It’s a win, win for Mississippi,” Berry said. “It’s what every fan base wants to see in the state, not only baseball, but basketball and football. We’ve seen other states that do it. We’d certainly benefit from keeping the money right in here in state.
“There hasn’t been talk about anything in the future, but it’s great for college baseball. It was picked as the best series this weekend by Kendall Rogers (of D1Baseball.com). It’s two programs that have done pretty well the last few years and have rich traditions.”
Even if first-year MSU coach Chris Lemonis would prefer not to play a weekend series going forward, it’s unclear if the two teams would return to playing mid-week contests.
“I think so. I would hope so,” Berry said. “With their turnover in coaches, everybody has a little different idea how to approach this. I haven’t talked to Coach Lemonis about that yet. We’ll let that play out.”
As for future games with Ole Miss, Berry said that the plan is to stick with the mid-week, home-and-home series.
Both teams will stick with the same pitching rotations from a week ago.
Junior right-hander Walker Powell (0-0, 2.25) will start Friday for USM and senior lefty Stevie Powers (1-0, 1.50) will go on Saturday. Sunday’s starter remains TBA.
Junior right-hander Alex Nelms, a Gulfport native, is a strong candidate to get the call on Sunday for USM after throwing three scoreless out of the bullpen in Sunday’s 16-7 win over Purdue.
MSU’s pitching rotation will stay in the same order of redshirt junior left-hander Ethan Small (0-0, 3.60), freshman right-hander J.T. Ginn (1-0, 3.60) and redshirt junior right-hander James Keegan (1-0, 3.60).
All five MSU pitchers lasted 5 innings last week.
All three games this weekend will be available to watch on SEC Network-plus, which is a digital network that makes games available at ESPN.com and through the ESPN app on smartphones, tablets and other streaming devices.
SEC Network-plus availability is based on your pay TV subscription. SEC Network subscribers through AT&T U-verse, Charter, Comcast, Cox, DIRECTV, DISH, Google Fiber, Suddenlink all have access to SEC Network-plus.
USM senior first baseman Hunter Slater had an outstanding debut series last week as the team’s three-hole hitter. He was 8-of-13 at the plate with a homer, four RBI and four runs scored. His slugging percentage stands at .923.
MSU sophomore first baseman Tanner Allen had an even bigger weekend against Youngstown State, hitting .538 with a pair of homers, 13 RBI and five runs scored. His slugging percentage is 1.231.