What to know about No. 20 Mississippi State, the SEC home-opening series for No. 17 Arkansas softball

Fans find their seats as players warm up, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, before Arkansas softball's game against South Dakota State at Bogle Park in Fayetteville. (Hank Layton/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — No. 17 Arkansas softball will look to build on a successful SEC-opening weekend with three games at home against No. 20 Mississippi State starting at 6 p.m. Friday at Bogle Park.

The Razorbacks (23-6, 2-1 SEC) climbed three spots in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll following their series win at Auburn last weekend. 

Arkansas has won six straight against Mississippi State with series sweeps last season and in 2021. The teams did not play in 2022.

Following Friday night's clash, the teams will play twice more this weekend. Saturday's game is scheduled for 2 p.m., and the series finale is set for noon Sunday. All three games can be streamed on SEC Network+.

What you need to know about the Bulldogs:

Outlook

Mississippi State (22-6, 3-3 SEC) opened SEC play winning its series at Ole Miss, but the Bulldogs stumbled last weekend at home against No. 13 Texas A&M, dropping the first two games of the weekend before claiming a 6-5 win in the series finale.

The Bulldogs fought back after losing the first two games of the series against Texas A&M last weekend. Mississippi State fell behind twice against the Aggies in the series finale but rallied to take the lead and held on from there for the 6-5 win.

"I'm just really proud of this squad and the way they came out,” Bulldogs coach Samantha Ricketts said after the game. "We knew we were going to learn a lot about ourselves and really just in the way that we responded. Win, lose or draw it was going to be about our response, and did we come out ready to fight or were we going to be discouraged by the outcome?

"I thought they did a great job. Even after getting down early, there was no panic. It was just a lot of trust. Let's do it together. Let's answer back."

The Bulldogs beat Alabama State in a Tuesday game, so they come into Friday's game riding a two-game win streak.

Mississippi State owns a pair of impressive wins against No. 23 Louisiana and went 2-1 in Puerto Vallarta with wins against No. 8 Clemson and No. 13 Utah.

Pitchers

Mississippi State has four pitchers with three or more wins this season. Josey Marron and Aspen Wesley are the Bulldogs' top two starters, both 7-2 in the circle. Marron has a 2.38 earned run average, and Wesley brings a 2.96 ERA into this weekend.

Lexi Sosa is 3-1 with a 1.27 ERA and Delaney Everett is 3-0 with a 2.23 ERA. Mississippi State's team ERA is 2.41.

Over 47 1/3 innings, Wesley has 54 strikeouts and has allowed opponents a .190 batting average. Marron has 40 punchouts and just 10 walks in 53 innings.

Wesley was sensational against Clemson in the complete-game win in February, allowing 6 hits and striking out 8 with just 1 walk.

“They have a really good mix of pitchers that compliment each other,” Arkansas coach Courtney Deifel said. “They really give different looks. So just like any SEC opponent, we're going to have to bring our best. They are going to challenge us.

“They do a good job of mixing speeds and mixing locations. Marron and Wesley are like two of the most opposites that you can have.” 

Position Players

Mississippi State is a team that puts runs on the scoreboard. The Bulldogs are batting .341 as a team and have scored 194 runs (7.1 runs per game). 

Madisyn Kennedy is a force in the Bulldogs' lineup. She was named the NFCA National Player of the Week after she belted four home runs and drove in 13 runs last weekend. The senior first baseman drove in seven runs in one game. Kennedy leads the team with a .421 batting average that includes 11 home runs and 35 RBI. She carries a 1.105 slugging percentage.

Statistically, Mississippi State is putting together a monster season with 9 different players batting .306 or above with a minimum of 39 at-bats. Besides Kennedy, three other Bulldogs have belted four or more home runs. 

Jessie Blaine is batting .358 with 5 homers, and Nadia Barbary and Kylee Edwards each have 4 home runs. Blain, Barbary and Paige Cook all have 20 or more RBI.

Mississippi State can also put pressure on opponents' defense with base running. Sierra Sacco is batting .342 with a team-high 28 runs scored and is 12 for 12 on stolen bases. As a team the Bulldogs are 29 for 32 on stolen bases and have 137 walks and 21 hit batters.

“They are going to put pressure on us and make us play defense,” Deifel said. “They walk a lot; they are really disciplined. It will be a good challenge just like every SEC opponent.”

By the numbers

2 - Weeks in a row Arkansas first baseman Bri Ellis has been named the SEC Player of the Week. Ellis torched her old team, Auburn, last weekend, batting .667 with 6 hits, 2 homers and 6 RBIs in the series.

5 - Wins against Top 25 opponents for Mississippi State this season, including two wins against No. 23 Louisiana.

11 — Home runs by Mississippi State first baseman Madisyn Kennedy this season.