Baseball faces challenge in Mississippi

Amber North

After having a slugfest in their home opener last weekend, the Hilltoppers are packing their bats and gloves on board to Starkville, Miss., for the Mississippi State Challenge.

And the three-game weekend will be just that – a challenge.

“Our first 12 games are going to be as challenging as the last 12 games of the season will be,” coach Joel Murrie said. “I believe in playing good opponents because it makes you better as a ball club.”

MSU has been ranked No. 29 in the nation by Collegiate Baseball magazine and picked to place fifth in the Southeastern Conference Western division.

The Fighting Illini are looking to improve last season’s 27-26 record as they host their season opener against Western at 11 a.m. Friday.

The Toppers play the Bulldogs at 3 p.m. and then will face Illinois once more Saturday morning at 11.

Coming off a good performance last weekend, the Toppers aren’t brushing off any opportunities to keep that momentum intact.

“It’s quite obvious when you play quality ball clubs that you cannot beat yourself or have physical and mental errors,” Murrie said. “You have to be alert in all nine innings no matter the score.”

Going into the game, sophomore third baseman Tim Grogan leading the offense with a .391 batting average. Grogan is coming off an excellent hitting game when he went 3 for 3 with three RBI against Ohio last Sunday.

Senior first baseman Matt Gunning is also hitting well with a .379 batting average. He leads the Toppers with 11 total hits and is tied with Grogan for eight total runs.

The starting rotation has not yet been decided, but Murrie knows for sure that junior pitchers Daniel Faulkner and J.C. Faircloth will be throwing.

Faulkner got his first win of the season when he struck out seven Ohio batters in 7.1 innings last Saturday.

“That definitely was a step up (for me),” Faulkner said. “There’s always room for improvement and I’m focusing on throwing a little better.”

Faircloth said that he is confident with how his team has been playing, and as long as the pitching staff comes out strong, Western shouldn’t have a problem.

Going into the series, Murrie is remaining positive just like any other game.

“I anticipate a win regardless of the opponent,” Murrie said. “You play versus the game, not the opponent, and if you beat the game then you beat the opponent.”

Reach Amber North at [email protected]