And it was a good day for Ole Miss as they completed the series sweep, the second in as many weekends. At 33-13 and 14-7 SEC the Rebels found themselves tied for first in the Western Division with Arkansas, and even for third overall in the league. Mississippi State was in the exact opposite situation having been swept their last two series, leaving them 20-23 and 5-16 SEC. Beyond pure mathematical chance, with three league weekends left the Bulldogs saw their fading SEC Tournament hopes washed away in a lost, wet weekend.
"I don't mean to be repetitive, but we are what we are," said Cohen. "And there's a lot of reasons for it."
Obviously offense was not one of them this day or for that matter this weekend. Besides out-hitting the Rebels in one-less Sunday inning—an eighth-inning single was erased by the game's reverting to seven complete--the Dogs averaged .308 for the series. At the very least State was swinging well enough to salvage a series split, and avoid losing all four meetings with the rivals in 2010. The last time State dropped all regular-season games to Ole Miss was 2005, and the Dogs did win the '09 series in Oxford.
But all-too-much like the preceding weekend losses, defensive gaffes gift-wrapped potential big innings and immature pitching was not able to offset all those ‘extra' outs. Or in one early case both came at the same time, as State's one lead of the day—a 4-2 margin after the first inning—evaporated with an error by a young pitcher. Not surprisingly after the Friday and Saturday breakdowns, it was another gaffe on the infield that directly led to the key inning of the afternoon when the Rebels scored four times in the top of the fifth. In all eight Ole Miss runs were unearned based on three contributing charged errors.
Then again, eleven other scores were earned as all eight Bulldogs who toed the Sunday rubber gave up at least one run. And the Rebels didn't always need to hit the ball, as they earned ten walks against half as many strikeouts.
"I just feel our young pitching is just in capable of being prime-time SEC just yet," said Cohen. "I think they will be but they're just not capable of navigating a SEC weekend yet. I know these guys are going to be solid." Sunday though showed what usually happens when a freshman reaches May in the college calendar and is given responsibility beyond their age and experience. And five of the guys throwing this game were true frosh.
That included starter Luke Bole, who in his previous two outings threw well on the whole. Not this time. The lefty did not make it out of the first inning as he gave up a leadoff single and four walks around two outs. The last two free passes forced in runners before classmate Kendall Graveman ended the inning on a fly ball. Then Graveman failed to get an out in the second and would be charged with three runs on two hits.
The losing pitcher, fittingly for this game, was the Bulldog who threw the very best of them all. Freshman lefty Chad Girodo (1-3) entered in the third with a 6-5 deficit and after giving up a sac-fly and RBI-triple to the top two in UM's order he settled in for a 2.2 inning stint…that should have been three full and even more. He was victimized by the single most crucial fielding failure, as with a 8-8 tie and one out order-topper Tim Ferguson one-hopped a routine grounder that SS Jonathan Ogden snared just fine but threw into the photographers box for a two-base error.
With two outs Girodo pitched around Matt Smith more or less on purpose for a lefty-matchup with Matt Snyder. The Rebel cleanup batter had slugged a two-run homer in the second; this time he settled for a single to break the tie, then Zach Miller sailed a triple to the right-center fence for two more runs. Corey Collins replaced Girodo, who by all rights should have been out of any such inning, to allow a runs-scoring double.
The game was blown entirely open in the top of the sixth with six more runs, half that coming on a three-run blast by Taylor Hashman off State's Greg Houston for a 18-8 margin. Ferguson would add a solo homer in the seventh for the last Rebel run.
State's swinging was not shabby either, as a four-run first at the expense of UM starter David Goforth showed. With two on and two outs DH Russ Sneed lined a three-run homer over leftfield, and 2B Sam Frost got his first SEC RBI with a single. LF Ryan Duffy singled in 3B Nick Vickerson in the second inning, and in the third it was Vickerson's turn to drive in Frost. That chased Goforth after just 2.2 turns with Eric Callender wild-pitching in Vickerson for a re-tied game.
Callender would allow another Frost hit and RBI in the MSU fourth for the 8-8 evener. Ogden tagged him for a two-run hit in the sixth and RF Luke Adkins drove in Ogden, which forced the third and final pitching move for Ole Miss. Matt Crouse worked the last 1.1 recorded innings with no harm. Callender (4-1) still got the victory despite four runs on seven hits.
Ferguson and Snyder both had three hits with five RBI and seven runs between them. In fact the top five of the Rebel order accounted for 14 of their runs. Freshman Frost had the most successful and unexpected day at the dish for State with a 4-of-4 performance, two runs and two RBI. He also handled his position efficiently, after second base errors had made the major contributions to Saturday night's defeat.
"I think sitting out for Sam really helped him a lot, helped kind of get a breath of fresh air," Cohen said. "I think he's going to be a solid player for us, he can really run, he can really defend, he gets to a lot of balls others can't get to." Sneed was 3-for-5 with three RBI on his eighth homer of the senior season with a couple of runs scored; and three other Dogs had a pair of hits. No wonder the coach wanted those two more innings to take as many hacks as possible. Besides, there were only three Dog strikeouts.
"I'm pleased with the way we swung it," said Cohen. "Defensively we're in a little bit of a slump there and that's unexplainable to me because some of the defenders making mistakes are pretty dadgum good players." For that matter the head coach remains entirely confident that his young moundsmen are going to be very good as well...in their own good time. As Cohen reminds, it is not the rookies' fault they are being asked to handle more responsibility and pressure than should be the SEC-case.
"When you look up and down this league nobody is having to do what we're having to on the mound from a numbers standpoints. Our freshmen are doing what a lot of freshmen do, a little bit of that wall when you get past the thirty-game mark." Lack of work might have done fellow frosh Matt Lane and C.C. Watson some good though, as both got some work in today. "It was good to see C.C. go out and compete a little bit, I think he's going to be a good one too," said Cohen.
Still it certainly hasn't helped shore up pitching confidence to have fielding failures behind them. Though, rookie moundsmen did make crucial mistakes in the field on their own. Saturday it was reliever Trey Johnson failing to get a foot down and finish a double-play, which let Ole Miss keep batting, take the lead, and go on to win. Sunday it was Graveman fielding a two-on bunt well only to throw it wild of third base in the second to allow that to become a big inning too.
But those are new kids trying to absorb and operate. Ogden is also new but he's a junior transfer, and his failure to deliver a perfect double-play ball again turned a game around Friday. He absorbed three of Sunday's charged errors, all leading to runs as it turned out. Cohen sees an exceptional shortstop taking his offensive issues into the field.
"I think Jonathan worked so hard on his swing the offensive part is kind of bleeding into his defense. He is as solid as they come, but he's doing this the first time to because he's a junior college transfer. I have a lot of confidence in Jonathan, he had a tough day today and everything is magnified when pitching is not going well."
For the weekend State was charged with 11 errors compared to three for Ole Miss.
A couple of Dogs got banged-up Sunday. CF Jaron Shepherd tweaked a knee running out a grounder to first base. Cohen thinks the junior will be fine this week, but Duffy hurt himself diving for a fly ball when his belt twisted and the buckle dug into the lower abdomen. "We'll see how he is and play that day by day."
Mississippi State's whole season is down to day-by-day now, barring some sort of May miracle. When Cohen took over in 2008 he knew rebuilding was going to be rough, even painful. But these first two seasons have produced ways of making defeats hurt that much worse than usual. Being swept by rival only magnifies the collective frustration in the locker room, the coaching offices, and the fan base.
But Cohen is keeping his perspective. Not to mention looking at an pretty good, if annoying, example. "Where you look at Ole Miss, they're experienced at almost every dadgum position on the field. They have a freshman second baseman, everything else is a wealth of experience. Every pitcher they're rolling out against us is a guy that has pitched in the SEC. It makes a huge difference. They are a solid, solid club. They are ahead of Mississippi State right now, but we're really going to shorten that distance up very, very quickly."
"I know where we're heading, I've been through this before and I know exactly the direction we're going. "It's hard to see from the outside looking in but we're dramatically better in almost every area than we were a year ago."
Meanwhile, the schedule resumes with a couple of midweek games in Pearl. The Bulldogs are hosted Tuesday by Jackson State (7:00), then are the home team for a Wednesday game with Southern Mississippi. Pitching plans are not set given how many guys threw this weekend, but Cohen was leaning to either Luke Bole or Trey Johnson as starting candidates before getting innings for seven or eight more moundsmen.