April 14, 2009
Danny P Smith -
It has almost been 20 years since Mississippi State baseball coach John Cohen has competed as a player against the University of Mississippi.
During his playing career with the Bulldogs (1988-90), Cohen remembers the rivalry with the Rebels wasn''t as intense as it is today.
"I think it has taken on a different dimension because, quite frankly, when I was playing, Ole Miss wasn''t as big a factor in the Southeastern Conference as they are now," Cohen said. "As a credit to (coach) Mike (Bianco) and his leadership, I think they are better than when I played in many ways, so I think it has heightened the rivalry."
Mississippi State and Ole Miss meet for the annual Governor''s Cup Game at 6:30 tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
Cohen welcomes any chance to showcase his club to fans who wouldn''t normally get to see it play.
"The fans are what makes the game," Cohen said. "It''s fun for our kids to play in games like this. You have two teams coming off putting everything on the line over the weekend and they are coming off the emotion of the weekend to get back up (today).
"I''m anxious to see how the kids compete under these conditions. I haven''t been a part of a midweek game against Ole Miss in a long time."
MSU (19-17) defeated Tennessee 10-9 in the third game of its series Sunday, while Ole Miss (25-10) salvaged the final game of its series against South Carolina 6-1.
Bianco said his Rebels have put together a nice record despite not playing their best baseball a times.
"We''ve figured out how to win some close games, which is something we really struggled to do last year," Bianco said. "We know the finish line is far away."
Jordan Henry leads Ole Miss with a .377 batting average, while Jeremy Travis has the best combined power numbers with six home runs and 23 RBIs.
Bianco said his players are beginning to understand roles as the season has progressed.
"It''s been harder to define roles this year through the lineup, as far as rotation, bullpen, and so on," Bianco said. "We''re trying to put the best nine out there as coaches. It changes from week to week. Part of the goal and challenges as coaches is to play the right people."
Bianco hopes pitcher Brett Bukvich (4-1, 3.86 ERA) will be the right one to face the Bulldogs. MSU will counter with Ricky Bowen (2-1, 5.40).
Russ Sneed (.371 batting average) leads the Bulldogs in hitting, while Connor Powers (11 home runs, 40 RBIs) leads the team in the power categories.
After MSU went 3-2 last week, Cohen believes he is getting the most he can out of his squad.
"That''s fun to be a part of," Cohen said. "The worst thing you can say about your team is they are a bunch of underachievers, but I feel the opposite of that is true for us. In some areas, we are really overachieving because our kids are competing at a very high level. They know the only chance we have is to outcompete our opponent. They''ve bought into that and have given us a great effort."