By David Cloninger/Special to the Journal
COLUMBIA, S.C. – John Cohen spoke all weekend about luck avoiding Mississippi State like the plague. Figures that when it finally turned the Bulldogs’ way, it vanished within a half inning.
Tenth-ranked South Carolina erased a 2-1 MSU lead in the fifth inning after the Bulldogs had benefited from two close calls and sprinted to a 6-4 win on Sunday, sweeping MSU out of town. The Bulldogs dropped to 21-15, 5-10 SEC, and are only one game out of dead last in the conference.
With the SEC tournament expanding to 10 teams this year, MSU has extra chances to try to get back into the running. If the tournament began today, the Bulldogs would not be in, but they have five conference weekends left to improve their standing.
That wasn’t comforting on Sunday. The Bulldogs want to win now, and with a rest-deprived week ahead – a game on Tuesday in Pearl and the start of a series hosting Tennessee on Thursday – their chances are slimming.
“I’ll say it for them – if we’re healthy, this is a completely different season,” Cohen said. “It just doesn’t happen for us.”
Mitch Slauter slid under a throw to the plate for MSU’s first run, and Hunter Renfroe scored the second when a potential double-play ball only recorded one out. Ahead 2-1, the Bulldogs could see the start of a win streak beginning.
Instead, another opportunity slipped away.
USC got a leadoff single in the fifth and then a groundout. With Evan Marzilli at the plate, he lashed a squibber to third base that looked like it could be two outs.
Daryl Norris knocked the ball down but couldn’t pick it up, allowing the runner to reach. The Gamecocks scored three runs in the frame and never looked back.
“It had a lot of side-spin,” Norris said. “I should have made the play.”
“He’s just trying to block it up and he can’t plant on his right knee to bend over and pick up the ball,” Cohen said, pointing out that Norris just returned to third this weekend after dislocating his kneecap. “He’s playing hurt.”
The Bulldogs got within two runs and had Sam Frost at the plate as the go-ahead run in the ninth, but his fly ball settled harmlessly into Adam Matthews’ mitt. MSU loaded the bus for a long trip back and looked forward to the second half of SEC play.
What else can the Bulldogs do?
“We have to get after it, because that’s what our expectation is,” Cohen said. “Things just keep happening that are very unlucky. You’ve got to make our luck, and it’s just not happening for us right now, but I got to believe, our time is going to come.”