By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
John Cohen kept telling us Mississippi State’s offense would come around. The evidence suggested otherwise – until this past weekend.
In its sweep of No. 4-ranked Kentucky, MSU hit .320 and scored 18 runs. That was far and away the best offensive weekend for a team that prior to the series was hitting .218 in SEC games.
Following Thursday’s 3-1 win, in which MSU had eight hits, catcher Mitch Slauter said the Bulldogs had adjusted their plate approach. What kind of change? Better pitch selection, better swings, a more aggressive approach?
“Being Bulldogs, like we are,” Slauter said, and then he went on to talk about “battling” and “fighting” – things you can’t quantify. Well, I guess you could quantify them, because look at the results.
On Friday, MSU scored four times but could’ve had a lot more, stranding 12 runners. Daryl Norris hit a clutch three-run homer – it was just the seventh home run hit at Dudy Noble Field in SEC play this season.
OK, so maybe there was something at work here. But on Saturday, the Bulldogs had to face one of the league’s best pitchers, Corey Littrell, who entered the game with an 8-0 mark and 2.22 ERA.
MSU blew him up to the tune of seven runs (five earned) on seven hits in 41/3 innings. It was easily Littrell’s worst outing of the year, and State went on to collect 14 hits in an 11-3 win.
Does this three-game sample portend long-term consistency? If so, then MSU is a legitimate contender to make it to Omaha, site of the College World Series.
That’s not too bold a statement, because State already has one of the nation’s top pitching staffs, a group that has posted a 1.55 ERA over the last five SEC weekends. The Bulldogs won 11 of 15 games during that stretch, and most of those wins were due to the pitching.
But against Kentucky, the offense could claim just as much credit. Now they need to keep it up.
MSU is 10-8 in SEC games decided by two runs or less, and it’s won eight of the last 10 such games. As Cohen said on Saturday, “I think this league is so strong, I’m just going to tell you, there is some luck that’s involved.”
If the offense can continue to give the pitchers a little more support and wiggle room, luck won’t be as much of a factor, and you might be surprised where the Bulldogs can go.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at DJournal.com.