STARKVILLE • Mississippi State’s first opponent at the College World Series is a team with which the Bulldogs are very familiar.
MSU will meet SEC West rival Auburn on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2 to open play for both schools at TD Ameritrade Park.
“It’ll be a really good SEC game in Omaha,” said MSU coach Chris Lemonis.
Although the Bulldogs and Tigers have clashed on the diamond 203 times since 1908, Sunday will mark the first time the two have ever played one another in the NCAA Tournament.
In fact, the Diamond Dogs and Tigers haven’t met in postseason play since the 1997 SEC Tournament in Columbus, Georgia.
State holds a 109-93-1 lead against Auburn and took two of three from the Tigers in Starkville on March 22-24. Auburn won the first game 6-5 but the Diamond Dogs rallied to win the series with 15-2 and 20-15 victories.
“That was one of the most offensive series I’ve ever seen,” said MSU right fielder Elijah MacNamee. “I remember after the first game it was a salty taste in our mouths after losing that close game. Then it was like a pitching machine out there and we were just hitting all day. I know they’re going to come out swinging and we’re going to come out swinging.”
SEC West co-champion Mississippi State (51-23) is making its 11th appearance at the College World Series and is going in back-to-back years for the first time since 1997-98.
Auburn will be the Bulldogs’ 25th different opponent and the eighth time they have squared off with a fellow SEC team in Omaha. MSU is just 2-5 in those match-ups, last losing to LSU 10-8 in 1998 after defeating Florida 14-13 two days prior.
Auburn (38-26) finished sixth in the western division with a 14-16 mark in league play and has reached the College World Series for the first time since 1997.
Auburn is coached by former MSU assistant and Amory native Butch Thompson. Thompson served as John Cohen’s pitching coach in Starkville from 2009-12 and was promoted to the Bulldogs’ associate head coach which he served as until the fall of 2015.
MSU will be sending its ace Ethan Small (10-2, 1.76 ERA) to the mound in Sunday’s opener. The junior left-hander currently leads the country with 168 strikeouts in only 102 innings of work.
Small got a no decision during his start against Auburn on March 22. He pitched six innings giving up two runs on three hits and three walks while striking out seven.
Fellow pitchers JT Ginn and Jack Eagan both practiced with the team on Tuesday. Lemonis stated that Ginn is good to go for the College World Series and Eagan’s status is still being determined after suffering a medical emergency in the dugout on Saturday.