February 20, 2014 10:06:41 AM
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State baseball team figured out Wednesday night they're not going to be treated like the national runner-up.
MSU coach John Cohen kept his team in the clubhouse for more than 30 minutes following a 6-4 loss to Memphis at Dudy Noble Field. He then used words like "immature," "unprepared," and "selfish" to describe his club (2-2) after it committed three errors and struck out seven times.
"We ran away from our identity and who we are tonight," Cohen said. "That's disappointing. That's on me, our coaching staff, and our players for not being ready to play."
Memphis (4-0) did what it has become known from under coach Daron Schoenrock since he took over the program in 2004: beat Southeastern Conference opponents. Since 2012, Memphis is 11-6 vs. the SEC, and has won seven of its past nine against member teams.
For Cohen, the loss wasn't about talent but a clear problem he has noticed with his club four games into the season. In the eyes of the sixth-year coach, MSU isn't capitalizing on its maturity. The lack of maturity contributed to the Bulldogs leaving 12 men on base and going 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position. The lack of focus led to three defensive errors that helped the Tigers score two unearned runs. Neither aspect is something Cohen will be able to stomach much longer from his team, especially one that hopes to compete 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."
Last season, MSU committed two errors in eight of its last 12 games. The three errors Wednesday were MSU's first of the season, but the team's lack of hitting magnified those mistakes.
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 or a lack of preparation," Cohen said.
Britton's errant throw on a double play ball in the seventh inning allowed two runs to score and helped the Tigers cut the deficit to 4-3 entering the ninth. Britton 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."
Offensively, C.T. Bradford, who left last weekend tied for the team's highest batting average against Western Carolina, went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
MSU also had problems at catcher. MSU coaches removed Gavin Collins was pulled for Zack Randolph, who is regarded as a more reliable defender. However, the Itawamba Community College transfer didn't block a Jonathan Holder breaking ball that went for a swinging strike three that allowed Memphis to get momentum in the final frame. Memphis stole three bases in the inning and scored three runs off the Bulldogs' preseason All-American to rally for the win.
"It was a disaster tonight," Cohen said. "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."
Fifth-year senior Ben Bracewell worked six innings in his first start of the season. The right-hander allowed three hits and one unearned run and struck out a career-high seven. It was the Bulldogs' second quality start of the season, but the co-captain said the team leaders will have to address certain things today in practice.
"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 will play host to Holy Cross at 4 p.m. Friday in the first game of a four-game series.
NOTE: MSU's Senior Day game vs. Tennessee on May 11 and its final Friday regular-season game May 16 at Alabama will be televised by CBS Sports Network. The scheduled start times of 1:30 p.m. (May 11) and 6 p.m. (May 16) remain the same. The games give MSU 13 on television this season, beginning with an 11 a.m. first pitch March 15 at Georgia on FSN.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.