John Cohen's club returns to the diamond on Saturday to play a double header against South Dakota State and Florida Atlantic. If you missed my preview on FAU, you can see that here. Let's dive into SDSU, who the Bulldogs will play in game one Saturday and again on Sunday.
The Jackrabbits posted a 33-22 mark last season and finished second in their league. They are a member of the Summit -- a small D-1 conference with only six members that play baseball. Oral Roberts, a familiar MSU foe, is also part of the Summit.
Friday vs. Florida Atlantic 4:30 p.m.
Saturday vs. South Dakota State 12 p.m.
Saturday vs. Florida Atlantic 3:30 p.m.
Sunday vs. South Dakota State 3:30 p.m.
Who has the edge?
Pitching advantage: MSU
Two of the Jackrabbits' starters will be thrust into those roles for the first time. The only returning starter, Ryan Froom, pitched game one today against FAU. Transfer lefty Landon Busch is set to square off against Austin Sexton or Daniel Brown from MSU. Although Busch doesn't have starting experience for SDSU, he did see time on the mound at Kansas State for two seasons including seven starts. It's interesting that SDSU is pitching its two most experienced guys against FAU. That tells me they are pretty high on Busch and expect him to become the ace with a few games under his belt.
I expect these two games to be when Cohen and new pitching coach Wes Johnson play the freshmen and a lot of them. Although there will be up-and-down moments to start their careers, this is the first chance to prove their top-10 class ranking. I'm intrigued to see if Johnson pitches his guys an inning or two apiece or stretches some out to three or four to see how they handle the pressure. One of them may even get a start on Sunday. Both teams are holding off on announcing a starter for that game.
Matchups (2015 stats)
SDSU: LHP Landon Busch (no stats)
MSU: RHP Austin Sexton (4-4, 3.77 ERA, 76.1 IP, 61 K, 24 BB, 32 ER)
Or LHP Daniel Brown (1-0, 4.87 ERA, 20.1 IP, 28 K, 12 BB, 11 ER)
Hitting advantage: MSU
Even though MSU will play several first-time starters and other hitters at the plate that are still trying to prove themselves, naturally SEC-level talent will have the upper hand against smaller schools like SDSU. Like MSU, SDSU wasn't a power team offensively in 2015. The Jackrabbits lost their top two hitters off last year's club that hit .288 as a whole. They do have a dangerous slugger in sophomore Luke Ringhofer -- who hit .321 and led SDSU with 41 RBI's on the way to earning All-American honors by Collegiate Baseball.
It's the same story at the plate that I talked about on the mound. I expect a lot of fresh faces in the lineups for these two games until Cohen figures out who is ready for primetime.
There's no excuse for State to lose either one of these games. They have more talent, more depth, and should have the pitching to dominate the smaller school. I'll take the dogs to win both, and at least one of them fairly convincingly. The more important issue here is experience for the freshmen, as long as a W isn't sacrificed in the meantime.