By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
No. 19 Mississippi State takes to the road this weekend and hopes to rediscover its identity along the way.
The Bulldogs (20-4, 1-2 SEC) are in Lexington to take on No. 10 Kentucky (16-4, 2-1) in a three-game set starting with today’s 5:30 p.m. contest. Saturday’s game starts at 11 a.m., and Sunday’s is scheduled for noon.
MSU lost two of three to LSU last weekend and then struggled to beat Alcorn State on Tuesday. Fifth-year coach John Cohen knows what makes his team go, it’s just a matter of doing it.
And doing it in Kentucky’s Cliff Hagan Stadium could prove extra challenging once MSU’s left-handed hitters get a look at the short deck in right field – it’s 310 feet down the right field line.
“A lot of folks go in there and they change who they are because of the ballpark. You just can’t do that,” Cohen said. “That’s why our catch word for the last two-and-a-half weeks has been ‘identity.’ We’ve got to know what our identity is, and that can’t change just because of the ballpark.”
MSU leads the SEC in batting average at .322, but clutch hits have been tough to come by at times. State was 2 of 16 with runners in scoring position in the two losses to LSU, although it did score 10 runs in the finale and then rallied from a 5-0 deficit against Alcorn.
“Coming off these weekends is difficult, and our kids were down 5-0, and they came back and showed a lot of fortitude, a lot of not panicking, and really proud of that one,” Cohen said. “We’ve had a good week of preparation.”
This will be a homecoming of sorts for Cohen, who was head coach at Kentucky from 2004-08 and took the Wildcats to a pair of NCAA regionals. He’ll see plenty of familiar faces, including UK head coach Gary Henderson, who worked under Cohen before taking over the program.
“It’s great to see those people, but you kind of have your game face on, too,” Cohen said.
This series will pit two of the SEC’s best pitching staffs. MSU’s ERA of 2.27 ranks fourth in the league, while Kentucky is sixth at 2.63.
“Low-scoring games would be what you’d envision,” Henderson said. “And then obviously it comes down to who cracks, giving the other team freebies, and defense.”