Tennessee heads into the final week of the season 46-7 (22-5 SEC) having already locked up their first regular-season SEC Championship since 1995.
Mississippi State has been one of the biggest disappointments in the SEC this season and enters the weekend series 26-27 (9-18 SEC) needing a strong weekend to make the SEC Tournament in Hoover.
Let’s take a look at Mississippi State entering the weekend series.
How The Bulldogs Got Here
An injury to Mississippi State ace Landon Sims early in the season killed the Bulldogs’ pitching ceiling and depth.
The defending national champions struggled out the gate this season, dropping its opening weekend series to Long Beach State before dropping two-out-of-three to Tulane and falling in a handful of midweek bouts.
The start of SEC play wasn’t any kinder to the Bulldogs. Mississippi State dropped its first five conference series of the season including a sweep against rival LSU. It looked like the Bulldogs had turned a corner, earning back-to-back series wins over Auburn and Ole Miss.
However, Mississippi State has spiraled sense, dropping two-out-of-three to SEC bottom feeder Missouri. The Bulldogs lost seven straight games — including a midweek matchup with Samford — ahead of their Tuesday win over North Alabama.
Mississippi State enters the weekend in 13th place in the SEC, a game ahead of Missouri , half a game behind Alabama and a game behind Kentucky. Only the top 12 teams in the conference make the SEC Tournament in Hoover.
Projected Pitching Matchups
Tony Vitello continues to mix up his weekend rotation heading into the last weekend of the regular season.
RHP Chase Dollander (7-0, 2.54 ERA) will start the series opener on Thursday for the second straight weekend. RHP Brandon Smith (3-4, 4.99 ERA) will get the ball for Mississippi State to open the weekend. Smith is making his eighth start of the season and has walked only 17 batters in 61.1 innings pitched.
Freshman Chase Burns returns to the weekend rotation and will start game two for Tennessee. Burns (7-1, 2.34 ERA) made his first bullpen appearance of his career last week against Georgia, allowing one run while striking out four in 1.2 innings pitched.
Preston Johnson will face off against Burns on Friday night. The right-handed pitcher has been Mississippi State’s worst weekend starter this season, posting a 3-3 record and 5.55 ERA in 12 starts this season.
RHP Drew Beam returns as Tennessee’s series finale starter after struggling in his first relief appearance last weekend. The freshman has been consistent as a starter this season, posting an 8-1 record and 2.54 ERA.
RHP Cade Smith (4-3, 3.63 ERA) has been the Bulldogs most productive starter and will start the regular season finale. Opponents are hitting just .222 against the pitch to contact sophomore this season.
Mississippi State Bats To Know
Mississippi State boasts average contact hitting, ranking ninth in the SEC in batting average. However, the Bulldogs have strong power hitting despite playing in the larger Dudy Noble Field. Four Bulldogs have 13 or more home runs on the season and Mississippi State ranks fourth in the SEC in long balls.
RJ Yeager leads the way for Mississippi State’s offense, hitting .328 with 17 home runs, 33 extra-base hits and 55 runs batter in. The second baseman leads the Bulldogs in batting average, home runs and RBIs.
Left fielder Brad Cumbest and Hunter Hines are right behind Yeager in home runs, tallying 15 long balls each. Cumbest is hitting .308 with 39 RBIs while Hines is hitting .296 with 50 RBIs.
Kamren James (.305 BA) is the only other Bulldogs hitting over .300, has nine home runs and leads the team with 13 stolen bases.
Right fielder Kellum Clark is the last bulldog with double-digit homers, tallying 13 long balls while hitting .244.
Tennessee’s ability to hold baserunners has been one of its few weaknesses this season. Mississippi State isn’t particularly aggressive on the base paths, ranking ninth in the conference in stolen bases.
Game Times/How To Watch
Thursday — 7 p.m. ET first pitch broadcasted SEC Network.
Friday — 7 p.m. ET first pitch streamed on SEC Network+.
Saturday — 3 p.m. ET first pitch streamed on SEC Network+.