BRAD LOCKE: Cohen plan pays its first dividends

If you’re a Mississippi State fan, some semblance of order was restored to the college baseball universe this past weekend.
As they have done so often, the Bulldogs won their series with Ole Miss, taking two of three and damaging the Rebels’ hopes of winning the regular-season SEC title.
But forget for a moment that it was Ole Miss. Because more impressive was the fact that MSU did it against last week’s No. 7 team in the country, according to Baseball America.
The Rebels only fell to No. 9 this week – which could be viewed as a sign of respect for State. Rankings aside, this was a monumental upset.
As coach John Cohen has constantly reminded us, the Bulldogs just are not very good this year, and that’s being kind. They are, I’m afraid, the worst team in the SEC, which they were last year, if you go by things like win-loss records.
MSU has the SEC’s worst ERA, has committed some blooper reel fielding errors, and has experienced some random stretches of offensive ineptitude, made all the more maddening by equally random offensive explosions.
Cohen tried to downplay the importance of the Ole Miss series in the bigger picture, but I don’t think he should.
MSU has long been the pre-eminent baseball program in this state, and one of the best in the SEC, what with eight trips to Omaha. Ole Miss has had several good, even great, teams since Mike Bianco took over.
But unlike State, Bianco’s teams have been unable to take the next step.
So I’m sure MSU fans were awash in good memories this weekend. MSU hadn’t won a series from Ole Miss in six years. It didn’t used to be that way.
From 1992-2003, MSU won 10 of 12 SEC series against the Rebs, and the Bulldogs’ record against their rivals during that time – and this includes the Mayor’s Trophy and SEC Tournament meetings – was 37-16.
That’s domination.
I don’t know that State will dominate in that fashion in the near future, but Cohen’s plan is to return this program to its previous form. He said Thursday that Ole Miss better “catch us when we’re down.”
They didn’t, and I wonder how long it will be before they do.
MSU has a ton of youth that it’s been forced to use. Two true freshmen drew starts in Oxford – Nick Routt, who’s not your typical freshman, and Devin Jones, who is – and two more newbies had relief work Sunday – Caleb Reed and redshirt freshman Paxton Pace.
“You don’t see a lot of freshmen in this league pitching. I don’t know for sure, but I don’t know if Ole Miss threw one freshman this whole weekend,” Cohen said, and he was correct. “That’s just how the deal works. Hopefully those guys get better and they kind of get through the league one time and figure it out.”
After impressive wins Friday and Saturday, MSU reverted to form Sunday. It couldn’t get timely hits – or many hits at all, just seven – and the relief corps couldn’t follow Jones’ strong 52/3-inning effort in an 8-1 loss.
Playing with pride
But the Bulldogs felt good about the weekend as a whole.
“You’re always playing for something at Mississippi State, and that’s pride,” senior center fielder Grant Hogue said. “Every time you throw on this uniform, you’ve got to play hard. We’re looking forward to this week and this weekend.”
Hogue was acknowledging the rich history of MSU baseball, a history that hasn’t seen the Bulldogs miss the SEC Tournament two years in a row – ever. Until now.
Order is not fully restored. If this past weekend was any indication, though, it shouldn’t be long.
Brad Locke (brad.locke@djournal.com) covers Mississippi State for the Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.

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