By Rob Carskadon/Special to the Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Hot bats from South Carolina and cold pitching from Mississippi State told the story of Sunday’s rubber match between the two conference foes. The No. 2 ranked Gamecocks were the first to score, and went on to a 13-4 win over the Bulldogs, taking the series 2-1.
The game was back and forth early on as South Carolina’s starting pitcher – Forrest Koumas – struggled. MSU led at the end of three innings by a score of 3-2. However, that’s when the back-and-forth ended, as Ray Tanner’s Gamecocks scored nine runs over the next two innings, putting the game out of reach for John Cohen’s Bulldogs.
“If you take away those two innings, it’s a totally different game,” said Cohen, whose team fell to 24-16, 7-11 in the SEC.
Indeed, it would have been. MSU’s pitching staff was never able to stop the onslaught, even though the Gamecocks (31-8, 14-4) were missing two starters, including star outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr., who hurt his wrist on an attempted diving catch in Saturday’s game.
“It was sort of the hitters’ day,” said Tanner.
Cohen said the problem was his inability to find a dominant pitcher for the end of the weekend.
“Obviously, the fourth and fifth innings were a killer for us today and we’re going to have to pitch better than that on Sundays,” Cohen said. “We’re kind of searching for the right guy to get us a little deeper in a ball game.”
Freshman Daryl Norris started the afternoon on the mound for the Bulldogs, but he only made it through one inning before he was pulled, giving up two runs.
“It was clear to me that Norris, early on, wasn’t going to get it done,”Cohen said. “He just didn’t have the same rhythm he had a couple weeks ago.”
Chad Girodo replaced replaced Norris, and he did not give up any runs, but he had trouble keeping pitches off of Gamecock bats. The oft-maligned Devin Jones came into the game, and Cohen said his outing is not what he wants from the talented pitcher.
“His fastball and his slider found a lot of barrels,” Cohen said. “I’ve said this many times, he’s a talented young man, and at some time a light switch has to go on.”
In addition to pitching woes – MSU went through five men on the mound – the Bulldogs left runners on base at the end of seemingly every inning, a total of 13 men on base who never crossed the plate.
The hits were certainly there, as MSU had 12 to South Carolina’s 18. The Bulldogs just couldn’t capitalize, Cohen said.
“I felt like we took unbelievable swings against their starting guy, and really I think the first four outs we made were just bullets right at somebody,” Cohen said. “That’s how it works sometimes, you’ve just got to keep battling.”
The good news for the Bulldogs is the road gets easier. Having played three top 10 teams, and the top three in the SEC East – South Carolina, Florida and Vandy – MSU finishes the season with series against Ole Miss, whom MSU has beaten once in the Governor’s Cup, LSU, Alabama and Tennessee.
Concluding with Vanderbilt’s win over LSU on Sunday, those top teams from the East are a combined 23-4 against the West, and three of those losses came against MSU – one each from Vandy, UF and South Carolina.
Cohen is fully aware of how the schedule plays out now.
“I think there’s something to that,” Cohen said. “The East is playing really good baseball. The West is very capable, it’s just not happening right now. I think the fact that we’re going to get to play in the West, and we have two weekends left at home, I think our players know that. It’s huge. We’ve got four weekends left. We still have a lot we can do.”
With the worst behind him and a less difficult stretch ahead, Cohen is not worried about his team getting down after losing the series to USC. Said Cohen, “I know our kids will bounce back.”