The final weekend of SEC play is nearly upon us, with No. 24 Mississippi State (38-15, 14-13 SEC) hosting No. 14 South Carolina (38-14, 16-10) starting Thursday. A lot is on the line, with State hoping to earn a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament as the No. 4 seed, and in the process strengthen its case for hosting an NCAA regional.
We caught up with MSU coach John Cohen this morning on his weekly teleconference, and he’s pumped about the coming weekend.
“This is what you want,” Cohen said. “You want to go into weekends like this at the end of the year where everything matters. You want to be totally in the thick of it. Almost every goal that we have had to start the year, with the exception of winning the Southeastern Conference, is still in front of us.”
Here are some more highlights from Cohen’s chat.
Your team’s résumé is very similar to South Carolina’s, do you also see similarities between the teams themselves?
“There’s a ton of similarities. It’s two very evenly matched clubs. They’re just a really good club. They can really defend it. Their arms, even though maybe their numbers aren’t as strong as what they’ve had in the past, they’ve gotten on a roll. If you look at their last two or three starts, the guys that are starting against us – (Nolan) Belcher and the other kid (Jordan Montgomery) – they’re pretty impressive. You know they’re capable of beating anybody in the country.”
Do you expect a playoff-type atmosphere this weekend given what’s at stake?
“I’d love to. The challenge for us being out of school, you just lost 50 percent of our population in Starkville. My mathematics is probably not correct there, but it’s a bunch. Maybe more than any school in Southeastern Conference, we have depended on our students to be a huge part of our crowd, and they have. They’ve been vocal, and they’ve done a great job. Man, I want that for our kids, with everything on the line this weekend.”
Does still having some goals ahead of you help you, because some teams might be looking ahead?
“I think so. Gosh, you’d love to be in Vanderbilt’s situation, but again, you’re not. I look at our schedule, we start with LSU and we end with South Carolina. If you look at the average RPI of teams we’ve played in the last 10 weekends, including South Carolina, the average RPI is 25. If you look at No. 2 in our league, it’s Ole Miss, and they’re almost 10 (points) behind in the average RPI if the teams they’ve played in the last 10 weekends. It’s been a war for us.”
Is your pitching plan the same this weekend? You seem to have more options.
“We’re going to have to see how (Daryl) Norris bounces back. We’re going to have to really see that. But seeing what he did last night really gives us a shot in the arm. I thought his slider was plus, he threw some 92-93 mph fastballs. You just add that one extra guy to the bullpen, and it really helps our cause. That was really the whole purpose of last night. We felt like the strength of the bullpen was something that was going to help us, and we just found another part of it in Norris.”
(Norris pitched Tuesday night vs. Oral Roberts, his first mound work in two years.)
Kendall Graveman had three consecutive complete games, but now he’s been a little off of late, seems to have one thing that burns him each game.
“I use this word a lot, and you guys are probably sick of hearing it, but he ran away a little bit from his identity. He was on fire, he had three great starts. If he just goes back to being who he is – no more, no less – he’s pretty darn good. And that’s something (pitching coach) Butch Thompson does a great job with with our pitching staff. I really believe Kendall, he knows what’s at stake, and I really believe he’s going to get right back to where he was. He’s going to have some good starts for us down the stretch.”