CATEGORY: Baseball

AUTHOR: TALBER

HED:Miss. State, Ole Miss host first conference series

By Mike Talbert

Daily Journal

The No. 13 Mississippi State Bulldogs will be trying to break Florida's three-year stranglehold over them in SEC opening series today at Dudy Noble Field.

"We opened with Florida at Gainesville the last two years. It is nice to have them here," Mississippi State coach Ron Polk said. "They're a quality opponent. They are a warm-weather team and started (playing) a littler earlier. They already have 17 games against good teams."

The Florida Gators (11-6), ranked No. 8 by Collegiate Baseball, have won their last eight games with the Bulldogs, sweeping three consecutive season-opening series. The last two years the series were at Florida.

Florida has kept its ranking this year while splitting four-game series with a pair of nationally ranked teams, No. 12 Florida State and No. 19 Miami.

Also today, new Ole Miss coach Pat Harrison faces a similar task as he takes his Rebels (10-3) into his first SEC series. Last year, the Rebels started a disaster SEC season by being swept at Kentucky.

Struggling Kentucky (1-7-1), that Ole Miss ace Dan DeYoung (2-0, 1.04 ERA) faces at 7 p.m. today, is the only team in the SEC to have a losing record in its pre-conference schedule. The two teams play at 3 p.m. Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Mississippi State (7-2), which has a six-game winning streak, will go with left-hander Eric DuBose (1-1, 2.57), whose lone win was against the nation's No. 1 Division II team, Delta State.

For the 2 p.m. games Saturday and Sunday, Polk said, "We are undecided (on starting pitchers). We want to see what Florida has, to see how we match up with them."

Polk said the Bulldogs could go with Keith Dilgard (2-0, 4.80), Jeremy Jackson (1-1, 4.05) or Brian Wiese (2-0, 1.38).

"Or maybe we can go with someone else. We have got some choices," Polk said. "We may have to use one of those starters in relief."

The Bulldogs come into the game hitting .345 as a team, led by Bryan Brooks (.567, 12 RBI) and Richard Lee (.438, 13 RBI).

MSU must face a pair of veterans from last year's College World Series team, junior Tommy Bond (1-1, 3.50) and sophomore Sergio Rodriguez (1-1, 4.61), and freshman Matt McClendon (1-1, 5.34). Although that trio has all but two of the Florida starts, the Gator relievers have eight of the wins.

Paced by Tupelo first baseman Brad Henderson (.434, 3 homers, 16 RBI), who leads the Rebels in 10 hitting categories, Ole Miss is hitting .315 as a team. Two other starters are hitting .400 third baseman Scott Eskra (.422) and shortstop Jason Huisman (.412). Huisman's brother, Josh, who has only 20 at-bats, is hitting .500 and is tied with Henderson with three homers.

Kentucky is expected to start Tim Rowland (1-1, 3.71) and Scott Downs (0-2, 7.31), with the third starter to be named later.

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