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Smith Column: Bulldogs find way to victory with small ball

February 22, 2011

By DANNY P. SMITH
Sports Editor
sdnsports@bellsouth.net

Anytime there's been a John or a variation of that name on the Mississippi State baseball roster, there's always been a fan behind homeplate that yells "knock it out John" whenever that particular player comes up to the plate.
Current head coach John Cohen was one of those Bulldogs on the receiving end of that phrase when he played from 1987-90 and Cohen was known to hit a home run or two.
This year, MSU shortstop Jonathan Ogden has already heard it.
The college game has evolved so, even since Cohen's played, that home runs are not as much of a factor as they used to be.
Especially with the new bats, it's going to be a rare feat for one player to have a 20-plus homer season.
Even though he has already hit a couple out of the park in the first five games, labeling Ogden as a power-hitter just doesn't fit.
That's why when Cohen came back to coach MSU in 2009 that he emphasized from the very beginning how important being effective in the small game was going to be.
It's going to take some real muscle to hit the baseball over the fence at Dudy Noble Field so offenses are going to have to adjust.
"When you hit line drives and outfielders are just standing there, this ballpark is going to eat it up," Cohen said. "The very least, it pressures somebody with some help from some guys who can run and it's how the game is going to be played as long as these bats stay the same."
It has taken a little while for the Bulldogs to get the hang of playing that type of game under Cohen.
There have been signs early this season that MSU is going to be pretty good at manufacturing runs in certain situations. It was a key Tuesday when the Bulldogs defeated Northwestern State 6-4.
In the fourth inning, Jarrod Parks and Daryl Norris were issued back-to-back walks, then Cody Freeman had a bunt single to load the bases. C.T. Bradford hit into a fielder's choice that brought Parks home, then Ogden hit into a fielder's choice and Norris scored on an error by the catcher.
The Bulldogs used the bunting game again to score a run in the sixth and it was all started by a bunt single by Freeman. For anyone wondering, Freeman is a catcher.
Freeman moved to second base on a bunt by Bradford and Ogden drove him home with a double.
In winning its first five games this season, MSU seems to be enjoying how things are coming together for the 2011 season.
Of course, the challenges become more and more difficult as the Bulldogs work their way toward the beginning of Southeastern Conference play on March 18, but so far, there are some positive things going on with the ballclub.
"It's really a lot of fun right now and there's a lot of energy even from the dugout to the club house," Freeman said.

Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.

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