May 20, 2010 10:21:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The LSU baseball team is fighting for a chance to make the Southeastern Conference tournament, while Mississippi State wants to end a disappointing season on a high by winning a series against the defending national champions.
Surprisingly, that isn''t part of the motivation for John Cohen''s Bulldogs, who avenged a blowout loss May 5 to Southern Miss with a 16-9 win Tuesday in Hattiesburg. That victory was just the second in 16 games for the Bulldogs (22-31, 5-22 SEC), who won''t take pride in potentially keeping the Tigers out of Hoover, Ala. MSU will open the final SEC three-game series at 7 tonight in Baton Rouge, La.
No. 23 LSU (34-19, 12-15) is in a four-team logjam for the seventh and eighth spots for the SEC tournament. The situation is similar to what MSU faced after taking two of three games from Tennessee a little more than a month ago.
To Cohen, there''s not much to read into the battle between LSU fighting for a tournament spot and MSU aiming to atone for faltering down the stretch of league play.
"Every weekend in the SEC is the same," Cohen said. "It wouldn''t matter if we were playing LSU, Auburn or Alabama or somebody else. They are coming off a great year having won the championship, but every big game on the road is very similar to our guys. I''m not downplaying it, but I think the guys were just as excited to play Southern Miss and Vanderbilt last weekend."
Cohen is confident his players'' minds are glued to hitting LSU''s pitching and getting outs on the mound, insisting the need to earn wins is greater than gaining a notable victory. After all, RPIs are meaningless because the Bulldogs won''t make the NCAA tournament.
MSU''s win Tuesday against Southern Miss will aid its efforts to win at the new Alex Box Stadium. Freshman left-hander Chad Girodo pitched a complete game, giving up nine earned runs on 12 hits. He fanned six and had five scoreless innings, but his ability to pitch the full nine innings gives the Bulldogs greater bullpen flexibility.
"I think it was pretty important since it is a short week," Cohen said. "I think it really helps your pitching a lot, and we knew it was going to be a high-scoring game with a very offensive environment in Hattiesburg. For Chad to do what he did allows us to get deeper this weekend. It will help dramatically."
As three games remain, Cohen is keen to have young players get as many at-bats and innings to continue to develop. Tuesday''s game was vital to Girodo, who pitched five innings and gave up one run in a no-decision against Northwestern State last Wednesday, Cohen said.
"I can''t tell you how important it is for a freshman standing on the mound at the end of a game saying, ''I finished this deal. I wanted to be out here when it mattered the most,'' " Cohen said. "It''s great experience, no matter the team."
LSU is coming off a 9-1 loss to Tulane. It could clinch a spot in Hoover if it sweeps MSU. The Tigers could also get into the SEC tournament it they win two games and Tennessee or Alabama doesn''t sweep their series in Knoxville. LSU can also get in if it wins one more game than Kentucky, which plays this weekend at Georgia.
"We still have an opportunity to earn a postseason berth and keep our goals in sight," LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "We''re looking forward to being back at home for a very meaningful series."
Cohen said senior left-hander Tyler Whitney (0-3, 6.31) will start tonight, while freshman Chris Stratton (4-3, 5.80 ERA) will earn the Game 2 start on Friday.
If Devin Jones isn''t called into relief action in either game, he will be in line to start the season finale Saturday. Cohen said he "toyed" with starting Stratton tonight but opted to keep the steady freshman in his normal role.
What Cohen would like to see is a solid, if not spectacular, weekend performance from his pitching staff to complement the tremendous play the team has gotten from its senior positional players. MSU has averaged 8.8 runs per game in its last eight games thanks in large part to the efforts of Ryan Duffy, Connor Powers, Luke Adkins and Jet Butler. Duffy went 3-for-4 at Hattiesburg and drove in five runs, while Powers had three hits.
"I''m really proud of those guys, the Duffys the Connors," Cohen said. "Luke Adkins, his last 35-40 at-bats have been phenomenal. On Monday, he was at his grandfather''s funeral and he gave one of the eulogies. He''s had a tough time.
"Jet Butler had a great game last night, and Russ Sneed, with all he''s been through with his hip surgeries, has been doing a real great job for us. It''s been a really neat experience seeing these seniors evolve."