By MATTHEW STEVENS
Mississippi State head coach John Cohen went home Saturday night with a list seemingly of things seemingly a mile long in his mind of bad breaks that have befallen his ball club.
After the Bulldogs second straight 5-4 loss to Alabama last night in a Southeastern Conference doubleheader, Cohen was at loss for explanations but not words.
“I don’t know what to say,” the Bulldogs third-year head coach said. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’m never seen any of this the way it’s been happening to us right now.”
One could start with a severe injury to shortstop Jonathan Ogden after an outfield throw was cut-off and the reverse short-hopped relay throw to second base hit the senior in the face.
“We cut the ball off, we got the guy hung up between second and third base – Norris cuts it, that guy is out and he short-hops it,” Cohen said. “That’s fine except it hits my guy in the nose and he gets to third and scores.”
Alabama third baseman Brett Booth, who ran around the bases while Ogden was on his knees holding his nose, would score on a wild pitch the very next sequence to give Alabama a 2-1 lead. It would be the sophomore’s only hit and run of the contest.
Cohen said after the doubleheader “there’s a good chance” Ogden’s nose is broken meaning the senior could miss significant time in the near future days after receiving a cortisone shot to deal with a severely pulled abdomen muscle.
“He goes to his knees and blocks a ball with his face for Mississippi State University,” Cohen said. “He’s one of the toughest kids I’ve ever coached.”
A little over an hour before that occurred, Cohen got bad news in the form of Jaron Shepherd asking out of the lineup after injuring his foot in the previous game of the doubleheader where he had a career-high two home runs.
“He got hit by that pitch and really couldn’t plant on that foot,” Cohen said. “A guy that hits two jacks walks up to you before the game and says he can’t play. Guys I could write a book here.”
Mississippi State’s sixth straight league loss in eight contests included freshman outfielder C.T. Bradford tagged out twice in two rundowns while initially standing at third base.
“We didn’t have any base running mistakes,” Cohen said. “We’re in a down angle right there. That’s exactly what you do – go full speed because you can’t see if the pitcher is going to make that play or not. That’s just normal baseball.”
Then after Mississippi State (24-18, 7-13 in SEC play) went to its bullpen one-two punch (Luis Pollorena and Caleb Reed) again in the eighth inning, the lefty-righty combo allowed two run-scoring hits.
“We got the best stinking closer in the whole league out there,” Cohen said. “I’m speechless.”
The swing that finally did State in Saturday night was the a game-winning RBI-single to left field by Alabama shortstop Jared Reaves.
“Of course, it’s tough to sit there for three and a half (or) four hours but Alabama did the same thing there,” Cohen said. “Reed has done it for us all year long. You just read the swings and say ‘how is that possible?”
In two games against the Tide (28-18, 10-10) Saturday, Mississippi State left a combined 23 runners on base. Cohen said it was day where State players constantly hit hard line drives or ground balls straight at Alabama fielders.
“(Ryan) Collins is up (with) bases loaded and hits the hardest ball I’ve ever seen him hit with top spin at the second baseman – I don’t what to say,” Cohen said. “We’re killing balls at people and we’re not having this conversation right now if that ball Collins hits finds the hole. When you’re finding barrels and not scoring runs…..it’s unbelievable cause I’ll watch the film and throw up.”
Alabama got a quality start from junior southpaw Adam Morgan as the Marietta, Geo., native went 110 pitches in six inning allowing just three runs and handed the game over to the bullpen that allowed nothing more than a Nick Vickerson solo home run to left field.
Vickerson, a Tuscaloosa, Ala., native, made it back-to-back multi-hit games Saturday by going 2-for-5 in the nightcap and totaling a 5-for-10 effort throughout the day. The senior, who also scored and drove in two runs each Saturday night had his batting average jump 18 points (.260 to .278).
After getting the victory in the opening game Saturday, Alabama closer Jonathan Smart got his eighth save of the season by working a perfect ninth inning.
Pollorena (5-3) received the loss after failing to record an out with either of the two batters he faced but being charged with one run and one hit.
With the loss, Mississippi State now drops to two games behind two-way tie between Auburn and Ole Miss for the final two qualifying spots for the 2011 SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. State has not reached the conference tournament since 2007 and will be looking to avoid the sweep today when the two teams face off in the 1:30 p.m. finale.
Alabama announced late Saturday night they will be starting sophomore left-hander Taylor Wolfe (1-2, 4.43) while Mississippi State is likely to send sophomore right-hander Kendall Graveman to the mound but officially have left the spot as a game-time decision.
“Things are not going our way and our kids are busting their tails,” Cohen said. “I won’t sleep and our staff won’t sleep because we’re (as coaches) trying to get line drives to fall in gaps and that’s something you can’t control.”