Bulldogs face dire situation

Published 10:23 am Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mississippi State pitcher Lucas Laster (46) pitches against Ole Miss last week. Mississippi State will open a three-game series at Tennessee tonight. (Bruce Newman/The Oxford Eagle)

Mississippi State pitcher Lucas Laster (46) pitches against Ole Miss last week. Mississippi State will open a three-game series at Tennessee tonight. (Bruce Newman/The Oxford Eagle)

Two and a half months ago, Mississippi State was undefeated and ranked in the top 10 in both major college baseball polls.

The ensuing 10 weeks were filled with bobbles, blown leads, stumbles — literally and figuratively — and missed opportunities. The path led to this point, where the Bulldogs need a series sweep on the road just to keep their season alive.

Mississippi State (24-27, 8-19 Southeastern Conference) begins a three-game series at Tennessee (21-25, 8-18) tonight. The two teams are in 13th and 14th place in the SEC standings.

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The top 12 make the SEC Tournament and still have a chance at an NCAA Tournament berth.

The winner of the MSU-Tennessee series will also need a couple of losses from Georgia (25-27, 9-17) to move up in the standings, but the loser is certainly finished.

Georgia hosts Arkansas this weekend.

Mississippi State coach John Cohen said there isn’t room for scoreboard watching.

“You can’t do that. You have to focus in on what’s going on with you,” Cohen said. “Throwing strikes, continuing to play really good defense, and progressing offensively. Those are the things that have to happen, and you can’t control anything else.”

Since starting 13-0 and climbing as high as No. 8 in the March 2 Collegiate Baseball poll, the season has been an ongoing nightmare for Mississippi State.

Its first loss, 3-2 on March 2 to unheralded Arkansas-Pine Bluff, started a stretch of 27 defeats in 38 games.

MSU has lost 14 of 18 heading into the Tennessee series.

It has lost seven one-run games, and missed out on taking a series victory from top-ranked LSU when a runner tripped rounding third base in the bottom of the ninth. The Bulldogs lost that one 5-3 in 14 innings.

Despite the slump, or perhaps because of its oddball nature, Cohen said he’s been happy with the Bulldogs’ overall performance. It’s just been one or two things each game that have hurt.

“There are many times I’m still excited about the things our kids are doing. In fact, this team does several things better than our 2013 team that almost won a national championship. This might be the best practice team I’ve ever coached,” Cohen said. “There’s just these little moments that allow us to fall through the cracks when it matters the most. I’m excited about this group and I think they’re going to compete to the very end.”

However they got here, the Bulldogs now need to win. Period.

Tennessee fell to the bottom of the SEC standings by losing seven of eight games in April, but has won three of its last four.

Like Mississippi State, the Volunteers need a series win — and likely a sweep — as well as a couple of Georgia losses to make the SEC Tournament.

It’s a position neither the Bulldogs nor Vols want to be in, but one they also recognize they put themselves in.

“We’re going to need some help this weekend. We’re going to need to do our job and win two, probably three games and hope Georgia loses a couple of theirs,” Tennessee infielder Nick Senzel said. “We put ourselves in this spot, which is really tough as a team that you become close with and see everyday that you have to rely on other people just to get to the SEC Tournament.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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