The hiatus is over, and the Mississippi State University baseball team is set to take the mound for the first time since COVID-19 abruptly brought all of college sports to a screeching halt.
The MSU baseball program had just beaten a nationally ranked No. 2 team in Texas Tech University before the 2020 season was canceled, and the Bulldogs, currently ranked No. 7 in the nation, look to carry the momentum over into the 2021 season. This marks the fourth straight season MSU has entered the preseason poll with a top 15 ranking.
MSU is not the only SEC school ranked in the top 25. Nine other SEC schools dot the polls, which is the most out of any conference in college baseball. Florida is at the top at No. 1; Vanderbilt is No. 4. Ole Miss is No. 6; Arkansas is No. 8. LSU is No. 12; South Carolina is No. 18. And rounding out the last SEC spots, Tennessee is No. 19, and Auburn is No. 22.
The baseball seasons begins for the Bulldogs on February 19-21, in Arlington, Texas, at the home of the Texas Rangers. Head Coach Chris Lemonis said in a Zoom interview session that his team is excited to hit the field and play in the beautiful stadium.
"We're excited. It's been a long year since we were last on the field. Getting the opportunity to jump out and play this level of competition, this early in the season, in a beautiful ballpark, the excitement is there for us," Lemonis said. "We're ready to play ball. We look forward to seeing a bunch of fans … All the teams will have them there. But our fan base is fired up and ready to get to Arlington and have a chance to watch us play, everybody play. It's a fun time of year, and we're honored to be part of this tournament."
The first home games of the season will be on Feb. 23-24, against Jackson State University, followed up by home games hosting Tennessee Tech University, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Eastern Michigan University and Samford University ending the nine-game home stretch.
SEC play will start on March 19-21, when the Bulldogs will travel to LSU for a three-game series. Following that series, MSU will host Arkansas (March 26-28) and Kentucky (April 1-3) in back-to-back home game series. After that, the team will then head to Auburn (April 9-11) for a series then head back to Dudy Noble Field to host Ole Miss (April 16-18) for a three-game series. Vanderbilt will host the Dawgs for a series on April 23-25, and then the team will head back to Dudy Noble to host Texas A&M (April 30-May 2) before heading to South Carolina (May 7-9). The last home game of the season will be against Missouri (May 14-16) as the Tigers travel to the Carnegie Hall of College Baseball. Conference play will end on an away game against the University of Alabama on May 20-22.
The annual Governor's Cup contest with Ole Miss will not be played this season. MSU and Ole Miss released a joint statement detailing the reasons for canceling the game.
"Due to scheduling and logistical challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ole Miss and Mississippi State have agreed that the Governor's Cup game in Pearl will not be played this year. While we are disappointed for our loyal fans in the Jackson area, we look forward to seeing our storied rivalry renewed during the scheduled three-game series April 16-18."
The SEC also announced the 2021 softball schedule, and MSU will begin conference play on the road against Ole Miss.
Every SEC program will play one series on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, with the Monday game being aired on SEC Network. Softball head coach Samantha Ricketts said in a press release that her team is ready to compete and they look forward to beginning the season.
"We are thrilled to be making strides towards getting back on the field after a long hiatus. The leadership and collaboration from Commissioner Sankey, the SEC office and each institution has been tremendous in the collective effort to return to competition this year. We are looking forward to providing our student athletes the championship experience that comes along with competing in the Southeastern Conference and are ready to start the season."
The Bulldogs' conference play will start in Oxford, Mississippi, on March 12-14, followed by hosting Florida (March 19-21) for the first home game series of the season. The Dawgs will go on the road and battle Arkansas (March 26-28), Missouri (April 16-18) and South Carolina (April 9-11). The remaining home games for the Bulldogs are against Texas A&M (April 23-25) and Georgia (May 7-9).