STARKVILLE – John Cohen is wondering what he’s done to offend the baseball gods.
Mississippi State’s coach railed against the mysterious, invisible hand that seems to have cursed the Bulldogs this season. Saturday seemed to encapsulate 2011 for Cohen, as MSU dropped both games of a doubleheader to Alabama in front of 4,241 at Dudy Noble Field. Both games were 5-4 finals, the first one taking 10 innings.
Whether it was being gunned down on the base paths, or hard-hit balls finding infielders, or two key players getting injured – it all brought Cohen to a boiling point after the game, when he reeled off a 658-word rant against MSU’s misfortunes.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I’ve never seen any of this happen the way it’s happening to us right now,” Cohen said.
MSU (24-18, 7-13 SEC) entered the weekend only two games out of first and one game behind Alabama (28-18, 10-10) in the SEC Western Division race. The Bulldogs are trying to make the SEC Tournament field for the first time in four years, but if this keeps up, it won’t happen.
State stranded 23 base runners and was 5 of 22 with runners in scoring position in the two games. MSU base runners were caught stealing three times in the opener, and C.T. Bradford was thrown out at home twice in the nightcap.
But Cohen didn’t fault his players, noting that several well-struck balls took direct paths to a Crimson Tide defender’s glove.
“I’ll watch the film, and I’ll throw up,” Cohen said. “I will not sleep one minute, because things are not going our way, and our kids are busting their tails.”
MSU led 4-3 in Game 2 after seven innings, but Alabama pulled ahead in the eighth thanks to a pair of two-out RBI singles, by Brock Bennett and Jared Reaves. The go-ahead hit came off bullpen ace Caleb Reed but belonged to Luis Pollorena (5-3), who took the loss.
MSU had runners at first and second in the bottom half of the inning, but Nick Vickerson was called out on strikes, and that was the last threat, as Jonathan Smart nailed down his eighth save with an 18-pitch ninth.
Alabama took Game 1 thanks to a fortuitous pop-up and an unlikely hero.
It was a 3-3 game in the sixth when Bennett popped up a pitch near the plate. First baseman Ryan Collins raced in but couldn’t make the catch, and the ball bounced foul – but the home plate umpire ruled it had been touched, and the runner on third scored.
Jaron Shepherd’s second home run of the game, a solo shot to lead off the eighth, tied the game and sent it into extra innings. But the Tide answered when pinch-hitter Brett Whitaker, who was 0 of 8 at the plate entering the game, homered off Caleb Reed (0-1) to open the 10th.
Smart (3-1) tossed 21⁄3 innings of shutout relief for the win.
Shepherd hurt a toe on his right foot when hit by a pitch and could not play in the second game. Shortstop Jonathan Ogden, when trying to field an errant throw in Game 2, took a ball to the nose, which Cohen said is probably broken.
“Guys, I could write a book here,” Cohen said. “I don’t want to say woe is me, but our kids are playing their tails off, and I still believe in them.”
If MSU loses today, it will fall into a tie with LSU for last place in the West. Cohen expects his players will be able to deal with Saturday’s losses better than he did.
“They’re going to go home, they’re going to hang out with their girlfriend, they’re going to see their parents, they’re going to eat a nice meal, and they’ll all sleep,” he said. “But that’s my job – I won’t sleep. Our staff won’t sleep, because we’re trying to get line drives to fall in gaps, and that’s something you can’t control.”
Game 3 is at 1:30 p.m. today.
n Game summary, Page 2B
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal