Shortly before Mississippi State’s game against Auburn last Friday, Bulldogs coach John Cohen suggested to first baseman Connor Powers that he make a change in the way he “loads” – that is, steps into a pitch.
Powers, a junior power-hitting first baseman, had been doing a leg lift before each swing. Cohen asked him to try a toe tap instead.
A simple adjustment, but boy has it been effective.
In the five games since, Powers has gone 9 for 20 at the plate, hit five of his team-leading nine home runs, and has eight RBIs.
“Usually when you’re doing well, things are very simple, and when you’re not, they’re complicated,” said Powers, who for the year is hitting .316.
That’s been true for the Bulldogs as a whole.
Entering this weekend’s series at Tennessee – Game 1 is 6 p.m. today – they’re swinging it well. Over the last five games, MSU is batting .355, has hit 10 of its 30 home runs and is averaging 8.6 runs per game. Its team batting average for the season is .300 – up 11 points from this time last week – and in SEC play that number is .332, best in the league.
Powers said the key is the Bulldogs aren’t pressing as hard as they were earlier in the season. Why, he’s not sure.
“That’s one of those things that kind of clicks,” he said.
What’s especially pleasing to Cohen, though, is that it’s not just a power surge sparking the offense. His small ball approach is paying off big, with bunts getting put down and bases being swiped. State batters have been hit 51 times, more than any team in the league.
“I think our kids, through various means, are able to score runs,” Cohen said. “It’s not always about the hit, and everybody knows that. It’s about finding a way to get to first base.”
There could be quite the fireworks show in Knoxville this weekend, because Tennessee (13-11, 1-11) thinks it’s finding a groove, too. The Volunteers struggled in three losses to Alabama last weekend, but they’re coming off a 17-3 win over Lipscomb on Wednesday.
Having first baseman Cody Hawn (.333, 12 homers, 43 RBIs) and second baseman Cody Brown back in the lineup the last two games has helped.
“It’s unbelievable how two guys can change the complexion of your team,” UT coach Todd Raleigh said. “It kind of changes your attitude a little bit.”
Tennessee will likely need some extra offense – its 5.96 ERA is worst in the SEC.
– Tonight: Mississippi State LHP Tyler Whitney (4-1, 2.83) vs. Tennessee RHP Aaron Tullo (1-4, 5.59)
– Saturday: Mississippi State LHP Nick Routt (2-2, 3.89) vs. Tennessee LHP Nick Hernandez (1-4, 5.64)
– Sunday: Mississippi State TBA vs. Tennessee TBA
Brad Locke/Daily Journal