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Ole Miss baseball vs. Mississippi State: Online streaming, TV info and preview

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The Diamond Egg Bowl gets underway on Thursday night in Oxford.

Josh McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics

For the second week in a row, Ole Miss baseball will start its weekend series a day early with a nationally-televised Thursday matchup. This time, however, it’s a home series against its in-state rival.

Mississippi State, which pulled even with the Rebels at 3-3 in the SEC after a sweep of Tennessee last weekend, has been the inverse of Ole Miss this season: good hitting, poor pitching. The Bulldogs sit second to last in the conference with a club ERA of 4.53. but are batting .300 as a team and rank third in the SEC with .457 slugging percentage. First-year coach Andy Cannizaro has a ball club that is going to hit and run in order to get their offense going. They’re first in stolen bases, second in home runs and third in total bases.

MSU is led at the plate by the top two hitters in the conference, Jake Mangum and Brett Rooker. Rooker is sporting a .427 batting average and .521 on-base percentage while slugging an insane .885 thanks in large part to his eight homers. Mangum, a former Freshman All-American, hits at a .407 clip and has smashed nine doubles and driven in 11 runs. He’s your prototypical table-setter who can work a count and drive a ball into the gap to all fields.

Ole Miss answers with a pitching staff that carries a 2.82 team ERA, the second best mark in the conference. With one of the SEC’s most talented cadre of arms going up against a lineup bristling with .300 hitters, something’s gotta give.

2 big questions

1. Will the Rebels’ offense ever wake up?

Even with its great pitching, Ole Miss is going to have to start putting more runs on the board. The Rebels rank dead last in the SEC in runs scored, runs batted in and total bases. They’ve scored two or fewer runs in 11 of their past 17 games, losing seven of those 11.

With April just around the corner, it’s time to start wondering whether this is the status quo rather than a slump. It’s easy to point the finger at hitting coach Mike Clement, but let’s keep in mind that he’s dealing with a freshman-heavy lineup. He’s also shown the ability to coax improvement: after his 2015 offense hit .265, Ole Miss jumped up to .277 last season.

This isn’t a mechanical issue in my opinion. Ole Miss just needs to simplify things at the plate and look for fastballs. Clement’s hitters in 2016 were relaxed and aggressive—that needs to be the way this team approaches things moving forward.

2. How will Ryan Rolison fare as the new Game 3 starter?

With Will Ethridge having scuffled through his first two weekend starts, Mike Bianco is replacing him with another talented true freshman. Rolison, who boasts a 1.80 ERA and a .213 opponent average through 20 innings of midweek starts and weekend relief, has been tabbed for the start on Saturday (remember, the series starts on Thursday).

Rolison has plus stuff and a 90+ MPH fastball with run, though he gets himself into trouble sometimes by leaving pitches high in the zone in plus counts. One of the top pitching recruits in the country, he certainly looks capable of developing into a weekend ace down the line. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares in his first weekend start against a dangerous State lineup.

The numbers

Complete Ole Miss stats | Complete MSU stats

How to watch

Thursday

First pitch: 7 p.m. CT
TV: ESPNU
Online streaming: WatchESPN.com
Game-time weather: 66°, partly cloudy, 0% chance of rain
Projected pitchers
Ole Miss: RHP James McArthur (1-1, 1.77 ERA)
MSU: LHP Konnor Pilkington (2-3, 2.75 ERA)

Friday

First pitch: 6 p.m. CT
TV: SEC Network
Online streaming: WatchESPN.com
Game-time weather: 68°, sunny, 0% chance of rain
Projected pitchers
Ole Miss: LHP David Parkinson (4-1, 1.93 ERA)
MSU: TBA

Saturday

First pitch: 1:30 p.m. CT
TV: none
Online streaming: WatchESPN.com
Game-time weather: 72°, sunny, 10% chance of rain
Projected pitchers
Ole Miss: LHP Ryan Rolison (3-0, 1.80 ERA)
MSU: TBA