For their part Ole Miss (28-23, 12-15) salvaged something from the rivalry series, after 7-6 and 7-4 setbacks. Avoiding a season-shutout by the Bulldogs, who had also won the non-SEC Governor's Cup meeting, soothed some program pride. Much more importantly though, it kept the Rebels in contention for a SEC Tournament berth. In fact Ole Miss is not at all out of contention to tie for tops in the Division themselves.
"Give credit to Ole Miss, they realized their whole season was on the line here," Cohen said. "And they just did a better job than we did today. We played them three other times and we did a better job than they did three times. Tonight they did a better job than we did."
Ole Miss certainly did a better job on the pitcher's pile. Pressure or not, lefthander Austin Wright turned in the impressive performance his team needed. The junior shut State down and mostly out for his 6.1 innings, with two runs allowed on just four hits with a couple of walks. And, of greater impact, a career-best ten strikeouts. And while Wright (5-4) dominated a few particular Dogs, he was effective against all in striking out seven of the ten different foes faced.
Based on his outing a week ago at Tennessee, the MSU staff had reason to expect similar stuff from their starter. But Chris Stratton (5-6) surprised all with a struggling stint, not getting through an official first inning. Although the 0.2 outing was long enough with ten batters up, five hits for six runs, two walks and two strikeouts.
"He just wasn't sharp today," Cohen said. "That's not the Chris Stratton that pitched last week. It got us off to a really tough start and in our league you can't be down 6-0 after one inning and expect to win the ball game."
It didn't take long for the Rebels to take advantage of Stratton, and take charge. A couple of singles, to leftfield, and walk loaded all bases for Matt Tracy. He worked a 2-2 count before lining into centerfield for the first two runs. The first of too many, as Will Allen and Austen Anderson drove in runs with their contacts. Two were down when #9 batter Blake Newalu took the first pitch to leftfield for a 6-0 lead.
A walk of the order-topper was enough to excuse Stratton, so Chad Girodo could end the inning on a strikeout. The lefthander cruised through the next two turns but more than enough damage had been done. Especially with Wright striking out six in just the first three innings, with only a hit batsman and errored grounder against him.
State did get a little something going in the fourth frame, as 2B Nick Vickerson broke up the no-hit with a double inside the third base bag. RF Jaron Shepherd worked a full-count walk, and DH Hunter Renfroe singled into leftfield. No score came of it as Vickerson was blocked a step short of third base by Alex Yarbrough, slowing him sufficiently to prevent any attempt at home. It would have been a close play at the plate in any event. Wright was able to leave them all aboard with a fly-out of Collins.
After retiring nine-of-ten and getting a couple of outs into the Rebel fourth, Girodo was tagged for a single by Yarbrough and run-scoring double from matt snyder. He ended his stint with a grounder and 7-0 deficit.
SS Jonathan Ogden broke up the shutout by leading off the Bulldog fifth with a drive landing in the leftfield bullpen. It was his team-leading eighth home run of the senior season, and State's only longball of the series.
CF C.T. Bradford took over pitching for the bottom of the fifth and sat the first five faced, until Miles Hamblin ended a three-strikeout night with a double. Yarbrough scored him with a single, and Snyder unloaded over the rightfield bullpen for the two-run homer and 10-1 scoreboard.
A one-out walk of sub-swinger Daryl Norris ended Wright's winning evening so righthander Eric Callender could get a little work in. Ogden greeted him with a double to leftfield, Norris stopping wisely at third base where he could score more easily on a sacrifice-fly off C Wes Thigpen's bat. Bradford got his own RBI with a single to leftfield, and LF Brent Brownlee nearly kept the inning going on a head-first slide into first. The call was a close out and State had to settle for a 10-3 difference.
The Rebels rebuilt the margin anyway in their last turn, as consecutive one-out singles putting runners on corners. Tracy grounded right to new 1B Norris who opted to throw home; a short-hop that Thigpen snared but couldn't get around in time to tag Yarbrough. With two still on Taylor Stark was summoned. A wild pitch advanced each runner so Snyder could come home on a ground-out for the last run.
Girodo went 3.1 innings with a run on three hits, and fours strikeouts. Bradford gave five runs on seven hits with two strikeouts, before Strak went a harmless 0.2 to end with a strikeout.
Ole Miss posted 15 total hits, with a 4-of-5 evening for Yarbrough as he scored all four times reaching with one RBI. Snyder was 3-of-4 with three RBI and two runs. Meanwhile MSU mustered six hits, two each for Ogden (2-of-4, two runs, RBI) and Bradford. Frustrating Cohen further was how his team made some good contact in stretches with no useful result.
"We hit way too many fly balls today. I felt if we'd pressured their infield defense more that was how we were going to score. We didn't, we hit a lot of average fly balls." Which was what the Bulldogs had not done in winning the series, or a month ago at Pearl either in a 6-1 success. Those games were won on line drives and ground balls to gaps, an approach Ole Miss borrowed this time.
And of course there was the aborted start from a pitcher State has counted on to control games. A 6-0 hole was more than the Dogs could hope to overcome. "But I thought for the remainder of the ball game our kids competed pretty well," Cohen said.
"We win eight in a row, I felt this was the sloppiest game we've played in a while"
The good news is thanks to that win streak, including six SEC victories, the Bulldogs are playing the schedule's decisive week from a position of some strength. They will also close at home, hosting LSU (32-19, 10-16 going into Sunday). So even if they missed a sweep, Mississippi State can control their post-season opportunity. Or at least, as much as anyone in this Division has control.
"I don't know if anybody in this league feels good! But if feel good about the way our kids are competing over the last couple of weeks. And I feel good about the fact we're playing at home, and we'd love to have a bunch of Mississippi State folks in the stands next Thursday-Friday-Saturday."
Cohen said the team will use Sunday to get a head-start on their last midweek game, a Tuesday 6:30 contest at Memphis.