’These things’ meaning a Diamond Dog season that hasn’t developed as expected, and a post-season that today stands very much in doubt. Or worse if the unofficial predictions and official ratings-indices are to be believed. And, just for a little added intensity, a trip to face a consensus top-four club in the country up next.
Mississippi State visits Texas A&M to finish the first-half of the SEC season. The Bulldogs are 21-14 and 5-7 in league play, compared to 31-2, 9-2 for an Aggie squad ranked first nationally in two polls, second in three more.
For a brief spell State seemed to be taking some much-needed momentum on this road trip. They had just won the first SEC series, in the fourth try, by taking two of three from South Carolina. This along with other SEC results has the Dogs tied for 7th in the overall league standings and fourth in the Western Division. Though, it is a bunch of five-win teams knotted just a game in front of the four four-win teams behind and rounding out the rest of the conference ladder.
Most of the renewed optimism faded fast Tuesday evening though. Host Memphis got a couple of early-inning home runs in spacious AutoZone Park to cruise to a 7-1 victory. It was the third-straight non-conference loss for State and another blow to the RPI, which was #121 according to the NCAA’s official Monday release.
For comparison, eleven league peers checked-in from #4 A&M down to #56 South Carolina. Only State was in triple digits, reflecting just how bad the mid-week and non-SEC losses have hurt already. Put another way, a club that as of March 1 was 13-0 and thinking about hosting Regional play now is uncomfortably far outside range of an at-large bid.
For Cohen it is a delicate situation indeed. But the question about urgency?
“If you any of the 14 coaches in the Southeastern Conference about urgency, in this day-and-age with the stakes as high as they are?” he countered. “There was urgency when we rode up to Memphis yesterday. There’s urgency for every practice, there’s urgency for every game.”
And with every lost game that urgency only increases, obviously. But it is something a coach can’t emphasize. Not without putting more burden on ballplayers already pressing.
What urgency means is you have to be really locked-in, it can’t mean you try too hard or try to do too much. Because those are dangerous things,” Cohen said. The coach is also calling on not-so-long-ago experience here. The 2011 and '12 teams hit mid-season with no assurance of a SEC Tourney berth themselves, and the '13 team wasn't a sure NCAA thing in April either for that matter. Those years did work out well but only thanks to stronger runs in April and May.
“But there’s no question that our team has a sense of urgency. I think sometimes too much, and we have to back down from that. But we have to play our best and find combinations that enable us to do so.”
As the accompanying Wednesday video interview tells, Cohen and Coach Butch Thompson “expect” to go with the same combination of pitching that finally won a SEC series. LHP Lucas Laster (4-1, 2.53) who only last Thursday made his first ever regular-season SEC start, will get the ball for Friday’s 6:35 opener. RHP Preston Brown (4-3, 4.18) drops back to his first Saturday start of the season, and LHP Vance Tatum (3-1, 3.82) goes Sunday.
All three games are on the SEC Nework Plus on-line broadcast.