By MATTHEW STEVENS
Mississippi State head coach John Cohen admits he probably has the wrong attitude for undervaluing big mid-week games and how they affect his team’s rating percentage index.
That’s because he coaches in by far the best league in America with nine league teams including his MSU squad that are Top 50 teams in the RPI.
“The SEC is RPI central,” Cohen said. “The strength every weekend speaks for itself.”
Cohen has always and will continue to use mid-week contests to gain momentum for substantially important Southeastern Conference weekend series and isn’t surprised when upsets occur against mid-major opponents.
“The way I look at it, I was in the old Big 8 and new Big 12 Conference and there are weekends in more other conferences in America where you can have a bad weekend and still win,” Cohen said. “If you play bad in a weekend series in the SEC, you are not going to win. So in the middle of the week, they’re emotionally and physically spent and they should be. In a lot of cases this mid-week team, they’re playing a SEC team and that game is going to mean more to their kids by an unbelievable amount.”
Tonight the Bulldogs (22-14) have an unusually emotionally important mid-week game as they take the two-hour bus ride to Pearl to play in-state rival Ole Miss in the annual Governors Cup matchup with the Rebels at Trustmark Park.
The two teams have evenly split the previous four Governor’s Cup meetings played at the home of Atlanta’s Class AA affiliate Mississippi Braves with Ole Miss (23-14) winning in the last two (8-1 in 2009 and 5-3 last year).
“It’s a tournament type atmosphere knowing our players will treat this a little bit differently,” Cohen said. “This takes on a different flavor in a mid-week game. With both schools recruiting that area which is close to the largest city in Mississippi, it makes it fun for everybody.”
Ole Miss is coming off a three-game sweep at home against Kentucky when they won a pair of one-run games sandwiched into a 12-10 thriller on Saturday against the league’s poorest club.
“I was really proud of how all weekend our guys handled adversity when it presented itself and were able to come back from behind today and get the win,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. This sweep gives us a lift going into the week ahead to play Mississippi State in what
will be an extremely tough game. Overall, I’m just proud of our guys.”
One of the main reasons the Rebels had been struggling at the plate is the .205 batting average in SEC play by junior designated hitter Matt Snyder after suffering two separate shoulder injuries before the start of the 2011 season.
Ole Miss will turn to senior left-hander Matt Tracy (3-2, 4.46) who will open on the mound after being ineffective for three innings in Pearl against Southern Miss allowing three runs in three innings due to a career-high six walks.
The key for Ole Miss’ recent success in league play was the bullpen effort of SEC freshman of the week Bobby Wahl, who earned two saves in the series win. Wahl also worked 2.1 scoreless innings against No. 20 Southern Miss last week at Trustmark Park, entering the game with a man in scoring position in the eighth frame.
“They’re going to feel like they’re on a roll now,” Cohen said. “Our kids will be excited about going down there.”
Mississippi State will again plan on using a bullpen-by-committee strategy tonight in Pearl with sophomore right-hander Kendall Graveman (3-0, 3.45) getting the first opportunity on the mound. The Alexander City, Ala., native had trouble finding the strike zone in Pearl against Southern Miss but was bailed out by the relief effort of southpaw Luis Pollorena and closer Caleb Reed.
Tuesday’s game is the fourth in a run of 10 consecutive contests against SEC teams for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs host defending NCAA champion and league-leading South Carolina in a three-game weekend series at Dudy Noble Field and, following an exam week break, entertain divisional foe Alabama in a three-game, two-day graduation weekend series at Starkville. That series begins Saturday, April 30 with a 2 p.m. doubleheader, the first scheduled SEC twinbill at Dudy Noble Field since May 15, 1993.