STARKVILLE – Jonathan Ogden has had good excuses for not going all-out, for dialing it back and taking a day off. He’s had even better reasons for not doing that.
For Mississippi State’s senior shortstop, it’s been a season filled with physical and mental challenges, from injuries to a curiously high error count. But Ogden is feeling as good as ever and is eager to lead MSU to big things in the postseason.
“Coach (John) Cohen asked me a couple of weeks ago if it was OK if I just took it easy on my body and sat out one of the mid-week games,” Ogden said, “and I was like, ‘Coach, it’s kind of hard for me at this point to sit out a game when I don’t know how much ball I have left to play.’”
The Bulldogs (33-19, 13-14 SEC) host LSU (34-19, 11-16) in a three-game series starting today. It’s the final weekend of the regular season, and MSU is in a four-way tie for first in the Western Division, so there’s an extra sense of urgency for Ogden and his fellow seniors.
As State has scrapped its way into the postseason picture, Ogden has fought through pain and a fielding slump. He’s suffered since the fall from what Cohen has described as a pulled abdominal muscle, but Ogden said it’s actually inflammation in his pelvis region.
Cohen used the injury to partly explain Ogden’s midseason struggles, when he committed seven errors in eight games. He’s made a team-high 18 on the season – he had 12 all last season.
Ogden said the bigger issue with his injury was running, but he refuses to use it as an excuse. He did say that a case of biceps tendinitis presented a challenge earlier in the season.
“I started babying my arm and changing my release point and my arm angle, and it just got mental from there when I started throwing balls away,” he said. “You think about not throwing the ball away, and of course what do you do? You throw the ball away.”
Ogden received a cortisone injection three weeks ago and sat out one game of MSU’s series at Tennessee two weeks ago. Those steps seem to have helped: He’s made only two errors over the last 12 games.
Getting Ogden to sit even that one game was a tall order for Cohen.
“He’s one of the few kids I have ever had (where) we have had to discourage him from going all out sometimes, because he just beats himself up,” said Cohen, who illustrated his point by noting how Ogden dives for balls during batting practice.
Ogden said it’s always been that way with him.
“It’s not like I’m just trying to give it all I’ve got here the last couple of weeks, it’s just that’s how I’ve always been in practice,” he said. “I’ve always put myself in position in practice, if I’m going to dive for a ball, maybe I’ll be more comfortable in a game to dive for a ball and get up and make a play.
“It’s just a love for the game, man. You know?”
Even while struggling with errors, Ogden has made some highlight-reel plays at shortstop. He’s also improved as a hitter, going from a .207 average last year to .271 this season. He leads the team in home runs (eight) and RBIs (35).
Ogden was 5 of 10 with a home run last weekend at Ole Miss, and he’s trying to put his past struggles behind him as the Bulldogs seek their first SEC Tournament berth in four years.
“They fully know what’s at stake,” Cohen said. “This weekend is everything.”
You don’t have to tell that to Ogden. For him, that’s the case every weekend.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal