After starting the season 13-0, Mississippi State’s baseball team lost something in the consistency that had led it to such a record. The Bulldogs weren’t terrible, but were they were a good ways from great, too. After an undefeated February, MSU lost 12 games in March, a woeful month for John Cohen’s club.
When he spoke to reporters after games, both wins and losses, Cohen had a similar frustration: there was always something going wrong. For a while the starting pitching was great, but the bullpen was struggling. At times the defense was stellar, but the offense found it near impossible to produce. On days when the runs came in, the starters on the mound couldn’t protect a lead.
Finally, after that cold and even snowy month of March ended, MSU got it together, winning its first game of April, 13-2 over No. 13 South Carolina at Dudy Noble.
“We needed a big game like this,” starting pitcher Lucas Laster said after the win that night. “The month of March wasn’t too good for us. This was a good way to start out [April] and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Laster was a big part of the win, throwing a complete game as the Bulldogs finally seemed to break through a little bit. Of course, the 13 runs scored went a long way, as Laster himself conceded it’s much easier to pitch with a comfortable lead.
It didn’t stop there, though. The next day in game two, MSU pulled out another win, a 7-5 decision that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. At that point, MSU had scored 27 runs in its last three games, after only scoring three in the previous four combined.
In fact, the Bulldogs had single innings this weekend when they scored more runs in one frame than they had in the entire previous week of games, including a six-run inning immediately following a rain delay in game two that led to the win there.
“It was nice to know we were putting the whole package together,” junior second baseman John Holland said after Saturday’s win. “I think that was the team everybody saw at the beginning of the year … I think we were back to the team that was 13-0.”
Now, MSU wasn’t able to fully develop a winning streak, dropping game three of the series 13-7 after uncharacteristic outings by a couple pitchers, but even after losing, Cohen still saw the signs that his ship had been righted.
After the series finale, the Bulldogs have now scored 34 runs in their last four games, all over the course of one week. Compare to that to the previous four-games-in-one-week stretch where they only scored three.
Every problem hasn’t been solved, and it’s still baseball where streaks of both the hot and dry variety are bound to happen. But, at the very least, it seems one major issue has been fixed.
To hear Cohen and the players, the answer to seemingly every problem was the strike zone. The pitchers needed to throw strikes and the hitters needed to swing at strikes. Games one and two were good examples of the former, while everything the last week has shown the change in attitude of the former.
“We’re a lot more aggressive on the plate,” Cohen said. “We’re assuming every pitch is going to be in the strike zone and we’re attacking more.”
“Just going back to a little league mindset,” he said. “See ball, hit ball. Not overthinking things, just playing the game and letting it come to you.”
The effect was evident to Cohen as he watched his team rack up runs from the dugout.
“I thought our kids just played really relaxed at the plate. We just took some comfortable, relaxed swings and got our barrels in place,” he said midway through the weekend. “I think they’re starting to get really comfortable with their swing. It’s just that time of year where it warms up and you start seeing it a little better. I think everybody’s a little more comfortable right now.”
Going forward, MSU still has six conference series left, plus a couple handfuls of non-conference tilts, all followed by the SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs have a lot left in front of them and a great deal of work to do to make sure they’re still playing when the regular season ends. But with March behind them and the month of April just underway, things are looking much more promising.
“We’ve got a lot of good things going,” Cohen said. “We knew we were capable of playing this way. We’ve gotta keep it going in a positive direction.”