I will be starting a new segment on For Whom the Cowbell Tolls. “Gil’s Top 5” will highlight key aspects of Mississippi State athletics. Topics can be almost anything from players and games to stadiums and food. Please reach out to @Rx_MoreCowbell. I would love any new ideas from the greatest fans in the country. As always, Hail State and read on for a look at the Top 5 Most Important 2018 Mississippi State Baseball Series.
Southern Miss Away Feb. 16-18 (Opening Series of the Season)
The Mississippi State Diamond Dawgs begin their season on the road in Hattiesburg. The Southern Miss Golden Eagles are coming off a historic season. They won 50 games for the first time in program history as well earned a NCAA Regional #1 Seed. But like many teams, multiple players decided to leave for the draft, leaving the Golden Eagles with plenty of question marks. Key contributors on the mound for Southern Miss are now gone. They are also still in need of a lead off man after Conference USA Player of the Year Jason Burdeaux was drafted by the Detroit Tigers. Mississippi State wants to start the season on the right foot. The Golden Eagles are not the team they were last year. Opening day in Hattiesburg should have an electric atmosphere. Southern Miss will provide the Bulldogs with a competitive series. Plus who doesn’t like an intrastate rivalry.
Vanderbilt Home March 16-18 (First SEC series)
According to Baseball America, Vanderbilt’s 2017 recruiting class is ranked #1. Their 2015 class was also ranked #1. Vanderbilt has had 12 consecutive NCAA Regional appearances including winning the 2014 Championship and placing second in 2015. Kentucky has basketball. Alabama has football. And Vanderbilt has baseball. The Dores are essentially a lock for postseason play but they have some areas of concern. The 6-4 starting pitcher Kyle Wright is gone. Starting catcher Jason Delay has also departed. But Vanderbilt does have depth and experience pretty much everywhere else. Pitcher Patrick Raby seems ready to have a breakout season having playing for the USA Collegiate National Team. Juniors Connor Kaiser and Ethan Paul will have the infield locked in. The Commodores are a national power and a national brand. The 2018 Vanderbilt team seems to be on the path toward at least competing for a berth in the College World Series. Playing the Vandy Boys at home will help but winning a series against Vanderbilt will be a tall task.
LSU Away March 29-31
The 2017 College World Series Runner Ups have a lot to replace. However, Coach Paul Mainieri always seems to have his boys in a great position in the postseason. LSU had an older group of players on last year’s squad, resulting in an exodus in talent this year. Starting ace Alex Lange is gone. The Tigers will lose their shortstop/second baseman double play machines in Kramer Robertson and Cole Freeman. Another hole the Tigers will have to replace is at the starting catcher position with Mike Papierski now playing minor league ball in the Houston Astros organization. But because it’s the Bayou Bengals, they seemed to reload every year. They have a pair of freshman All-Americans returning, a transfer student that hit .394 in junior college last season, and a former all SEC designated hitter. Will the Bulldogs be able to take advantage of a Tigers pitching staff that may be lacking this year? Let’s hope we walk away from Alex Box Stadium with a weekend win.
Ole Miss Home April 6-8
The Ole Miss Rebels will come into Starkville with the #20 recruiting class. Last year’s recruiting class was ranked #1. The Rebels are beginning to stockpile some talent in Oxford. Ole Miss will most likely challenge the Bulldogs in this series. They return the probable opening day starter lefty Ryan Rolison as well as preseason All American pitchers in Dallas Woolfolk and Will Stokes. The pitching unit seems fairly solid but Ole Miss hitting could see a dip this season. Almost half of their home run production has moved on. The player to watch out for is Will Golsan. Golsan led the Rebels last season with 69 hits and was second in batting average with a .312. The series sits at about the halfway mark in the season. Starting rotations and position players should be set. Will Mississippi State have enough patience at the plate to maneuver around what seems to be a good pitching staff? I can’t wait to see the two Mississippi schools settle the score in early April.
Florida Home May 17-19 (Last Series of the Season)
Although Florida has been a dominant program for what seems like forever, the Gators won their first national championship in program history last year. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs and everyone else in the SEC, a lot of that same team comes back. Right handed pitchers Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, and Michael Byrne will anchor a talented pitching staff. Probably the Gator’s best hitter is back in J.J. Schwarz. This team is experienced and talented but not without faults. The Gators no longer have Alex Faedo, College World Series Most Outstanding Player. Gone too are shortstop Dalton Guthrie and catcher Mike Rivera. Florida’s pitching led them to a national championship last year. The Bulldogs will need to finish the season strong at home against Florida to provide some momentum into the SEC tournament.