By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Getting swept by Alabama, seeing two promising pitchers get “punched in the nose,” watching postseason aspirations deflate? Maybe that’s not part of the plan, but it’s part of the process.
Mississippi State coach John Cohen can do nothing but accept that fact. Sure, he’d love to see this team avoid a third consecutive absence from the SEC Tournament, but with four weekends left, the Bulldogs (20-20, 5-13 SEC) are three games out of the eighth and final spot – a spot now held by Alabama.
“Our kids know exactly what’s going on, and I have never been around a group of kids that has given us a better effort,” Cohen said Monday. “In terms of offense and defense, we are operating at 110 percent of what our capabilities are. I can’t fault any of our kids for any of the things that are going on.”
That thought process applies especially to Cohen’s freshmen pitchers, namely Chris Stratton and Luke Bole. Both starters gave up big innings in Sunday’s losses – inclement weather forced a doubleheader – with Stratton tagged for eight runs and Bole for four.
“If you’re creating a scouting report against us – and I’ve done this many, many times at many places – you’re going to say, hey, keep battling against these freshmen, because at some point in time during this game, no matter how good they are, they’re going to become freshmen,” Cohen said.
Stratton (4-3, 4.97 ERA) said he’s still not sure exactly why things went wrong Sunday, and he won’t hide behind his relative inexperience.
“I kind of look at it like I’ve had plenty of starts, I know what it takes to compete,” he said. “I’ve just gotta go out there and execute. I just didn’t do my job.
“You learn the best from your losses, and I definitely learned a lot, and hopefully I can apply it next weekend and just play good.”
MSU will try to resurrect its postseason hopes this weekend in Starkville against arch-rival Ole Miss, ranked No. 14 by Baseball America.
Stratton and Bole will start again, but Cohen said he might start senior Tyler Whitney on Friday. Sophomore Caleb Reed had drawn the series opener the past three weekends, posting an 11.37 ERA in 122/3 innings in those games.
The Bulldogs have been steadily climbing up the SEC hitting chart, currently sitting in seventh with a .299 average, just behind Kentucky (.300) and just ahead of Florida (.297).
Those bats will be tested against weekend stalwarts Drew Pomeranz (6-0, 1.90) and Aaron Barrett (6-2, 3.36), who will throw for the Rebels in the first two games. Cohen thinks his young pitchers can be that good someday.
Until then, he remains patient.
“You’ve got to be hard on them,” he said, “and you’ve got to hug them a little bit.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.