April 3, 2009
John Cohen and John Pawlowski are in new situations as head baseball coaches in the Southeastern Conference this season.
Cohen already was an SEC coach at Kentucky, but he left and returned to his alma mater, Mississippi State, replacing Ron Polk, while Pawlowski took over for Tom Slater at Auburn.
The Bulldogs and Tigers meet this weekend at Dudy Noble Field, and both programs are still trying to win on a consistent basis in the conference. The series takes place at 6:30 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Saturday, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
Auburn (18-9, 4-5 SEC) has enjoyed a nice non-conference run, but Pawlowski said his team is a work in progress.
"Our goal is to keep our head above water in the SEC," Pawlowski said. "I think we''re progressing, and offensively we''re getting better. It doesn''t necessarily mean we are going to score more runs, but we are starting to learn and understand what we need to do at the plate."
Trent Mummey (.371 batting average, 11 home runs, 29 RBIs) and Joseph Sanders (.312, 11, 37) lead the Tigers.
Cohen believes Auburn is capable of putting together a dangerous lineup.
"I felt like last year they had one of the great young clubs in our league," Cohen said. "You look in the middle of that lineup with Mummey and (Hunter Morris), they are a very good team. (Pawlowski) inherited some talent offensively."
Mississippi State will try to counter that attack with a pair of left-handed starting pitchers, Tyler Whitney (2-2, 3.81) and Nick Routt (3-1, 2.79). Whitney is expected to get the nod tonight and Routt on Saturday, but Cohen said that could change.
The way his club has struggled against left-handers this year, Pawlowski wouldn''t be surprised to see the Bulldogs throw another left-hander in the third game.
"Every time we get the rotation we know there will be left-handers in there," Pawlowski said. "With all of our left-handed bats, I think people feel that is the best way to go about pitching against us. It will be no different this weekend."
Mississippi State (15-13, 3-6) has won only two of its past nine games.
The Bulldogs won''t scare opponents with huge power numbers. Connor Powers is only player with five home runs. Jet Butler, who has the best average on the team (.367), has two home runs.
The lack of production concerns Cohen, but it hasn''t been from a lack of effort.
"We''ve had great practice sessions and the kids have been super," Cohen said. "I think they understand where Mississippi State baseball is. We''re going to continue competing our hearts out and doing everything we know to do to give us a chance to win."
Despite its struggles, MSU is 13-2 at home, which includes taking two of three games from South Carolina in the first SEC series.
Pawlowski will take that into consideration tonight when the teams kick off their series.
"John Cohen has done a good job everywhere he''s been, whether it''s been as an assistant, or as a head coach at Kentucky," Pawlowski said. "We respect him and got to meet him a long time ago on the recruiting trails. He motivates the guys, has a great approach, and they understand how to play the games.
"What it comes down to is the execution, and that''s something we''ve got to be able to do this weekend. When you go on the road in this conference, you had better be ready to play."