By MATTHEW STEVENS
Since the moment, John Cohen was introduced as the leader of the Mississippi State baseball program he’s been constantly hounded with one question.
Fans have mentioned to the third-year head coach, they’d like the revival of the Saturday doubleheader scene at Dudy Noble Field.
This weekend, the people are getting what they want as Alabama (26-18, 8-10 in Southeastern Conference) comes to Starkville for the first scheduled twinbill since 1993.
“Since the moment I’ve got here, the Saturday doubleheader is something the great fans here have wanted so badly and so now I hope we can get a great crowd to support us this weekend,” Cohen said.
It was unclear for a short time Thursday as to whether the Crimson Tide baseball team would be able to make the trip to Starkville after the University of Alabama campus was highly damaged after the record tornado storm hit the Tuscaloosa, Ala., area.
Cohen, who is from Tuscaloosa, told the media this week he was instantly concerned about his sister and brother-in-law after the tornado hit the area with both them in their downtown law office.
“The last big one was 1974 and I was 7-years-old and all I remember was my dad flinging me down on our basement and it sounded like a train going through our house,” Cohen said. “We couldn't get out of our front door and it’s amazing when you as a human being feel powerless and you see 100 year old trees – flung out of the ground like twigs. It makes you feel really small.”
Once Cohen was assured all of his friends and family were safe and the families of infielder Nick Vickerson, also from Tuscaloosa, weren’t affected, the on-the-field concerns returned with hopes of senior shortstop Jonathan Ogden returning from an abdominal injury.
Even though Ogden, who leads MSU in home runs, is the only member of the 2011 squad not to miss a game this season, Cohen confirmed he received a cortisone shot to help deal with pain caused by an abdominal muscle pull and Ogden has yet to practice this week.
“He’s a tough, tough kid but he’s in a lot of pain,” Cohen said. “We didn’t practice as a team Monday, got the shot Monday and did not practice Tuesday. I really think it hurt us last weekend because he struggles to get into a fielding position.”
Ogden is being listed as a game-time decision but the problem is State (24-16, 7-11 in SEC play) doesn’t have the depth behind the junior-college transfer as they’ve experimented with second baseman Adam Frazier, Sam Frost and Vickerson in practice.
“It’s difficult for (the coaches) too because we have to sit him down and say ‘you’re the only one that knows how much pain you’re in and you have to tell us how you’re feeling’ and that level of communication has to go beyond not wanting to let people down."
On the mound, Mississippi State will go with the combination of sophomore right-hander Chris Stratton and junior left-hander Nick Routt for the doubleheader at Dudy Noble Field against the Crimson Tide starting at 2 p.m.
Alabama senior starting pitcher Nathan Kilcrease is near the top of the SEC in innings pitched and strikeouts while coming to Starkville with a 2.94 earned run average with stuff on the mound that didn’t impress scouts enough for him to get drafted last June.
“He dominates the average things and for him the average things aren’t exactly average,” Cohen said. “He pounds the strike zone and has had success on the big stage already in his career.”
The Tide swept the series in Tuscaloosa last season, increasing the winning streak to seven games over MSU. Alabama took both games during the 2009 season and won the series 2-1 after winning games two and three in 2008.
On the outside looking in for a berth in the SEC Tournament for now, State begins the series two games out of first place in the loss column for the Western Division.