April 19, 2011 7:59:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Losers of eight of its last 11 games, the Mississippi State baseball team could greatly use the momentum from another victory against a state rival in Pearl.
When MSU beat then-No. 14 Southern Miss on April 5, it followed that result with a win in the opener of its weekend series against the No. 4 University of Florida.
At 6:36 tonight (CSS), MSU (22-14) will face the University of Mississippi (23-14) in the fifth installment of the Governor''s Cup at Trustmark Park, hoping to build off a win Sunday at Arkansas. A victory could give MSU positive energy ahead of its weekend series against defending national champion No. 2 South Carolina.
The midweek games have been traps for Southeastern Conference teams this season. Seven league teams lost last week, and five lost the week before that.
Throw in the rivalry aspect and an SEC team into the equation and tonight''s game stands out, MSU coach Cohen said.
"It''s a tournament-type atmosphere," Cohen said. "You feel like more is on the line than a typical mid-week game, and they probably shouldn''t feel that way because they all matter. We play Memphis within a week -- that''s gonna matter. You play Southern Miss in the middle of the week -- it matters. The players will treat this a little bit differently."
The challenges of playing a competitive midweek game on one day''s break are greater in the SEC, where six teams are in the top 20 in RPI, Cohen said.
Pitching gets taxed on the weekend, and coaches must game plan their pitching during the week to prepare for the next SEC series.
"In the SEC, if you have a bad weekend, you''re not gonna win," Cohen said. "It doesn''t matter who you''re playing. When you get to the middle of the week, your kids, physically and emotionally, are spent. They should be after an SEC weekend."
The Bulldogs will look for a revival at the plate, where they''re last in the league in doubles and in total bases. Cohen has conceded in recent weeks his team''s troubles generating offense, but the lack of clutch hitting has been more of an issue than the total number of hits.
Outside of their 18-0 loss to Florida, the Bulldogs have lost their last seven games by an average of two-and-a-half runs.
MSU had solid opportunities to clinch series'' wins against Florida and Arkansas. It left the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth in a 3-1 loss to the Gators, and squandered a 5-3 lead in the eighth inning in a game 1 loss to the Razorbacks.
Ole Miss is coming off a series sweep against Kentucky that put it in a three-way tie with Alabama and Arkansas for the SEC Western Division lead.
Today''s game won''t count against league records.
Brownlee suspended for today''s game
Brent Brownlee''s track record for model behavior makes his inappropriate gesture to heckling Arkansas fans hard to believe, Cohen said.
The junior outfielder was pictured flipping the middle finger to a crowd in left field during MSU''s 5-3 win at Arkansas on Sunday. As a result, he will miss today''s Governor''s Cup clash against Ole Miss in Pearl.
He won''t travel with the team but will play in MSU''s weekend series against defending national champion No. 2 South Carolina.
"I know, Brent being from Oxford and the great rivalry we have with the folks up north, I know that''s gonna be really disappointing for him," Cohen said. "I''m a big believer in track record, and Brent''s track record is model in every way."
In one of Cohen''s Twitter posts Sunday afternoon, he said "No amount of verbal abuse or threats of physical violence from fans justifies Brent''s reaction."
Cohen declined to say what was said to Brownlee, only that he''d heard the details of the heckling from multiple people. Cohen said, knowing Brownlee as well as he does, it would take a considerable amount of heckling to get him to respond the way he did.
"I''m not gonna hurl accusations at anyone; I''m just gonna accept responsibility for one of my players," Cohen said. "It doesn''t matter what is said to you or what kind of threat is thrown at you. It doesn''t provoke that type of reaction, and I think Brent realizes that."
Brownlee returned Friday for game 1 of the Arkansas series after a three-week layoff due to a stress fracture in his foot. He is batting .267 with four RBIs and hasn''t committed an error this season.
Graveman to start; MSU to use bullpen by committee
For all the issues MSU has had with its weekend rotation, Cohen will have to cautious how he uses his bullpen tonight.
The Bulldogs used relievers Caleb Reed and Luis Pollorena on Sunday against the Razorbacks, and Devin Jones threw 2 1/3 innings Saturday.
Sophomore Kendall Graveman (3-0, 3.45 ERA) will earn his first start since tossing four scoreless innings against Alabama A&M on March 30.
Graveman''s last appearance came in an 18-0 loss to Florida, when he gave up four hits and no runs in 2 1/3 innings. He struck out two and didn''t walk a batter.
Considering MSU''s up-and-down form at the plate, solid pitching is a must.
Cohen anticipates using a short staff a day in between games, and he believes Ole Miss will do the same after starter Matt Tracy (3-2, 4.46 ERA).
"I think we can even get an inning or two out of Pollorena, even though he pitched yesterday," Cohen said. "Caleb would obviously be out. I think we can even get an inning or two out of Devin Jones."