Dogs Conclude Cohen's First Season

Coach John Cohen

The game itself was obviously settled pretty early. So Coach John Cohen had plenty of innings, not to mention a nearly two-hour rain interruption, to think beyond this 2009 season's finale. "Where one chapter ends, another chapter begins," he said following a 15-4 Saturday loss to Louisiana State.

For their part the visiting Tigers also knew two crucial finale-facts long before the final out. First that they were going to win this game and series and end their SEC season 20-10; second, that Ole Miss was romping at Arkansas to post the same record. Thus LSU's post-game celebration of the 2009 SEC Championship was just a bit muted since the Rebels also have that title. The Tigers (41-15) do have the advantage of top seeding in next week's SEC Tournament though.

Meanwhile all Mississippi State (25-29, 9-20 SEC) had to look forward to was a long summer and the 2010 season beyond. And while the '09 chapter has closed, the last page read far too much like most others written by this team. "The kids gave great effort," said Cohen. "Today we just weren't good enough."

Certainly not good enough to keep pace with a LSU squad that was battering Bulldog pitching into submission with 23 hits. Fittingly the first safety was a home run by the leadoff Tiger, and a lead-in to a marvelous afternoon for the sophomore leftfielder. Leon Landry mashed homers off three different Dog hurlers, solo shots in the first and eighth innings around a two-run blast in the fifth. That went with a couple more singles, giving Landry five hits in six appearances and seven RBI. The three shots gave Landry a dozen homers on the season.

"He played well today," said Cohen. "But obviously he can be pitched to better. To get a guy like him out you have to get to both sides of the plate and create some sink, and be smart. I don't think we pitched him very smart today." Then again the coach could have said much the same for other Tigers. Designated hitter Blake Dean had the other LSU homer (#4) in the second inning and that counted for no less than three run. He finished with four RBI, while first baseman Ryan Schimpf added two RBI and two runs on four base hits. In all the top-third of LSU's order humbled State hurlers with 11 of their safeties and 13 RBI.

By contrast 1B Connor Powers had the only multi-hit day for State with a double and single, driving in what may well be the draft-eligible junior's last RBI as a Bulldog on his two-bagger in the third inning. Six other Dogs had hits with a double for RF Ryan Collins the only other extra-baser.

With such early and frequent offensive support LSU could afford to use up some pitching, only working starter Austin Ross two innings with a lone run (driven in by LF Luke Adkins) allowed on three hits. Nolan Cain came to the hill with a 7-1 lead and put in three complete innings with five hits and three runs. The time and distance of his stint made Cain (4-0) the on-record pitcher and winner. But Daniel Bradshaw also threw three frames and they were hitless and scoreless, while Buzzy Haydel took care of the MSU ninth with an unblemished line as well.

Mississippi State gave Devin Jones his third SEC start based on a competitive outing last Sunday against Ole Miss. The rookie righthander didn't have the same success this time, enduring two tough innings of six runs on seven hits with a strikeout and two walks. Jones ended the first year with a 0-4 record. From there it was just a matter of who could handle last-day innings. Not to mention a delay two batters into the top of the third caused by first lightning and then rain. Justin Bussey was the interrupted pitcher, though the clarity of the situation was best shown when during the delay teammates taped him to a table and carried Bussey out to be rained on for a few helpless moments.

That was the only real MSU humor all day. Bussey got in 2.2 innings around the delay for four runs on eight hits. Ricky Bowen got to make a 3.1-inning relief appearance with five runs on five hits, and Caleb Reed completed the day with a three-hit but scoreless LSU ninth.

Though the Bulldogs knew weeks, even months ago that this first year with a new regime was going to see more struggles than successes, the end still came too soon. Taking the series at Ole Miss last weekend, and giving LSU all it could handle the first two days—Thursday's game-one saw State lose a 4-1 late lead and 5-4 final score—hinted at what the '09 team might have been doing all year long. "I felt our record was worse than we really were," said Powers, who ended the year 9th on the career home run list with 38. "I felt we were in a lot of SEC games, some Sundays we weren't, but I felt there were a lot of games we were just one little thing away from having a completely different season."

Senior C Scott DeLoach said he would remember all the work that went into this year's transition. "I've been here three years, been through blood, sweat, and tears with every guy on this team so there are good memories. It's obviously not a record we wanted this year but it's been a joy to come out here."

There wasn't much joy for Cohen in immediate terms. "I'm really disappointed for our seniors ,we wanted them to go out in a better way. Any time you have a coaching change you have to prove yourself to another group of coaches. None of them assumed anything and tried to gain starting positions and some were able to do that. They're going to look back and see what we're doing at Mississippi State."

That doing is actually already underway, as Cohen and staff turn a blank page and start writing names. The names of the '10 team. "Our total focus now starts with who is going to be on this field next year, and preparing them to play in the best league in America." Cohen said there will be a 2:00 Sunday team meeting with individual meetings to follow and extending into Monday. Though not directly quoted during the season, the implication all along has been that major roster changes are in store beyond the loss of nine graduating seniors.

The individual meetings will be key to settling who is assured a spot for fall camp, who is not, and what additional recruiting needs there might be between now and the start of a new school year. The June draft will have the usual impact too, with Powers regarded as a likely selection as well as a couple of Cohen's signees. He inked 14 players in fall, has announced two more this spring, and has at least a couple others planned to sign.

The implications for the underclassman '09 roster are thus obvious, and will be an overriding theme the next two days. "Nine guys get to play, that means 26 don't, for the most part," Cohen said. "So there are always difficult meetings. But we'll do what is necessary for this program to flourish. Because that's what the fans deserve, that's what the administration deserve, and really that's what the players deserve. So we'll do everything to make sure that happens."

Senior DeLoach doesn't have to worry about '10, save from the standpoint of a new alumnus. In that status though the former walk-on who became a starting SEC catcher shares the optimism of his coach. "The foundation has been laid, the hard part is done," he said. "We're started up that mountain, once they get the players in the mentality is there I think it will get a whole lot better."

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