February 20, 2014 12:05:42 AM
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State baseball team figured out harshly Wednesday night they're not going to be treated like the national runner-up.
Not be it's opponent, not be its fans and certainly not be its coaching staff that kept them in the clubhouse for over 30 minutes after a 6-4 loss to Memphis.
MSU coach John Cohen used unfamiliar words like "immature", "unprepared" and "selfish" to describe his club in a loss where they committed three errors and had seven more strikeouts at the plate.
"We ran away from our identity and who we are tonight," Cohen said. And that's disappointing. That's on me, our coaching staff and our players for not being ready to play."
Memphis (4-0) didn't come into Dudy Noble Field and worry about the prestige and hype surrounding this MSU baseball program. They simply did what they've become known from doing under head coach Daron Schoenrock since he took over the program in 2004 - beat Southeastern Conference opponents. Since 2012, Memphis is now 11-6 vs SEC and have won seven of their last nine against programs that clearly overlooked their players in the recruiting process.
For Cohen, the loss to the Tigers wasn't about talent but signaled a clear and noticeable problem with his club just four games into the 2014 season. In the eyes of the six-year coach, MSU (2-2) isn't getting the maturity from its roster.
The lack of maturity led to leaving 12 men on base and hitting just 3 for 16 with runners in scoring position. The lack of focus led to three defensive errors that led to two unearned runs for the Tigers. Neither aspect of the game is something Cohen can stomach for much longer as he leads a club that had expectations of competing for a national seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
"We're taking selfish swings, softball swings," Cohen said. "Like the 280-pound guy who plays on weekends and has a job. Our identity has to be pitching and defense and we didn't defend the field well at all tonight."
In eight of their last 12 games last season where the Bulldogs embarked on a magical postseason run, MSU still committed at least two errors. The three errors tonight were MSU's first of the 2014 season but with the offensive struggles early on, the margin of error for this club is a lot thinner than the end of last year.
Junior Matthew Britton, a defensive substitution in the sixth inning, committed two errors as he tries to win the shortstop battle following the departure of Adam Frazier.
"That's either not being ready to enter the game when he did or a lack of preparation or whatever it is," Cohen said.
Britton's throw on a taylor made double play ball in the seventh allowed two Memphis runs to score and make the Tigers deficit 4-3 heading into the ninth. Britton simply missed his target after fielding the ball and threw the ball into short right field with the bases loaded.
"He didn't move his feet on a ball hit right to him and sailed that thing into right field," Cohen said. "That's a gift. The pitcher creates movement, sink and gets us a double play ball and we throw it into right field."
C.T. Bradford, who left last weekend tied for the team's highest batting average against Western Carolina, went back to last year's struggles at the plate by hitting lazy pop ups and striking out with runners in scoring position. The senior center fielder, who is supposed to counted on to lead this group of younger players up the middle, went 0 for 4 Wednesday with two strikeouts.
The catcher position was a carnival of errors as well as Gavin Collins was pulled for what the MSU staff thought was a more reliable defender in Zack Randolph. However, the Itwamba Community College transfer didn't block a breaking ball for a swinging strike three against Jonathan Holder to allow Memphis to get momentum in the final frame. Memphis had three stolen bases in that inning on Randolph and Tigers would get three off the Bulldogs preseason All-America selection at closer to win.
The catcher position was a major question mark entering the season for MSU and the lack of a premier player stepping forward to assume the starting role in the fall and early spring bit the Bulldogs at the worst time Wednesday night.
"It was a disaster tonight and we're kind of running around behind the plate like we don't know what we're doing so we got to get that under control as well," Cohen said.
Fifth-year senior Ben Bracewell worked six innings in his first start of the year. The right-hander allowed three hits and one unearned run with a career-high seven strikeouts. It was the Bulldogs' second quality start of the season but the co-captain said certain things have to be addressed with the leadership of the MSU club starting with Thursday's practice session.
"It's up to us to make sure we get this stuff done," Bracewell said. "Everything (Cohen) said to us tonight was something where he was dead on. We lost our identity as a team and that's not like us and you're not going to see that all year, I can promise you that."
MSU remains home for a four-game weekend series with Holy Cross. The Bulldogs and Crusaders meet starting at 4 p.m. Friday.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
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