RJ Yeager walkoff

RJ Yeager hopes he and his Mississippi State teammates can celebrate big hits like his walk-off home run against Alabama when No. 1 Tennessee visits this weekend.

STARKVILLE – Most seasons, this would not be the time for Mississippi State seniors to reminisce on their time at Dudy Noble Field.

However, this season as defending national champions has been an atypical one for the Bulldogs – who are in danger of not qualifying for the SEC Tournament much less hosting an NCAA regional.

The curtain will fall at one of college baseball’s most historical sites after this weekend.

The encouragement for players to pitch, hit and field better is always there, but for now, it’s a secondary message from MSU coach Chris Lemonis.

“I just challenged them to have fun this weekend. I want them to enjoy it. Some of the guys are playing in the Dude for the last time. We’ll play a lot better if we’re enjoying it instead of being stressed,” Lemonis said after the Bulldogs ended a nine-game losing streak with a 14-4 win over North Alabama at Dudy Noble Field on Tuesday night.

No. 1 Tennessee visits tonight at 6 in a game that will air on the SEC Network.

It will be live streaming on SEC Network Plus for Friday and Saturday with start times of 6 p.m. and 2 p.m., respectively.

The Bulldogs (26-27, 9-18 SEC) trail Kentucky by a game and Alabama by a game and a half in their bid to reach the SEC Tournament.

Mississippi State last failed to qualify for the SEC Tournament in 2015.

Meanwhile Tennessee (46-7, 22-5) has been the talk of college baseball most of the season.

There’s talent across the board, but much of the talk has been about relief pitcher Ben Joyce who had one pitch against Auburn recorded at 105.5 miles an hour on May 1. In that game Joyce threw 28 of 33 fastballs faster than 103, the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported.

The Vols will try to finish strong in their pursuit of the No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament.

They lead the SEC in batting average, home runs (126), earned run average and rank third in fielding.

They lead in overall hits, doubles and triples. Their pitchers have the fewest walks and the most strikeouts.

Playing completely loose and free may be easier than it seems.

“They have a great staff. They have great position players. They’re a great team. We look forward to the challenge. We’re going to go out there and compete and see what happens,” MSU second baseman RJ Yeager said.

Tennessee’s air of invincibility took a hit when it lost two of three at Kentucky on May 5-7. The first game went 13 innings with the Wildcats winning 3-2.

Mississippi State hasn’t won an SEC game since defeating Missouri 13-4 in Columbia on April 29.

“Baseball, you never know. Anybody can come in here and beat you and you can go out and beat anybody. That’s baseball. Baseball’s crazy, and that’s why we love it,” Yeager said.

PARRISH ALFORD is the college sports editor and columnist for the Daily Journal. Contact him at parrish.alford@journalinc.com.

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