March 5, 2010 9:57:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State baseball coach John Cohen didn''t know when his team would face its first bout of adversity, though he knew it was coming after a 4-0 start.
This past weekend''s three-game sweep at the hands of the Southeastern Louisiana Lions left the Mississippi State Bulldogs at 4-3 heading into this weekend''s BankFirst Baseball Challenge at Dudy Noble Field.
The Bulldogs topped it off last Sunday with a 6-5 loss in which they had a two-run lead. That followed Saturday''s 8-5 loss when they commit five errors.
MSU will attempt to snap its losing streak when it hosts Southeast Missouri at 4 p.m. today in the Bankfirst Challenge. The Bulldogs play Michigan State at 11 a.m. and Southeast Missouri at 2:30 on Saturday and Michigan State at 2:30 p.m Sunday in the Challenge.
Cohen said Thursday he thought his team was tentative against Southeastern Louisiana and "the game itself kind of ate them up a little bit."
"We played some bad baseball last weekend, but not all of it was negative," Cohen said. "I think we''re still trying to find ourselves as a club a little bit. I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves."
That pressure can be felt in the field, where first-year shortstop Jonathan Ogden and true-freshman second baseman Nick Vickerson have three errors each so far this season.
Cohen has raved about the duo''s talent since camp started, but with as many as six freshman pitchers, he said he must have solid defense from his middle infielders to support his pitching staff.
"It''s been our emphasis since we stepped on this campus," Cohen said. "Nobody takes more ground balls or does more defensive work with our infielders than we do. Honest, if we could do it over, we''d do less work. We''ve worked so hard on that part of our game. It seems we''ve done too much."
Fielding has been a focal point of practices this week, which turned into four days off following a rain-out of Tuesday''s home game against South Alabama.
Cohen said the team took more balls than usual off live bats this week and he''s confident the team will turn in better defensive performances against Southeast Missouri and Michigan State.
"This isn''t a group that''s been playing together for three or four years," Cohen said of his middle infielders. "Something like that, a sweep, can help your club if you have the right type of personalities. You won''t know if you do until you''re confronted with things not going your way."
Today''s starter will be sophomore left-hander Nick Routt (0-0, 4.18), who is coming off an eight-inning no decision against this past Friday.
Outside of Routt, Cohen said he was unsure of his starters for the remaining eight games. However, he expects freshmen Luke Bole, who missed his start on Tuesday, and Chris Stratton to start. Sunday''s weekend finale against Michigan State could see freshman Kendall Graveman, freshman Chad Girodo or senior lefty Tyler Whitney start.
Aside from the team''s anxiousness to return to the field, Cohen said he''s excited about the weekend because of the postseason atmosphere it''ll bring.
"It''s great to be able to see different teams on the weekend," Cohen said. "It''s the flavor of an NCAA regional. It''s great for our players and the other teams to have a round-robin style tournament and get some games in. I expect our kids to play well."
Southeast Missouri, coached by former Mississippi State assistant coach Mark Hogan, is expected to start senior right-hander Kyle Gumieny (1-0,1.74).
Michigan State enters the Challegne 4-2.
1. Hill, Gholar fuel Falcons' flight HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. EMCC offense having fun COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Mullen wants MSU to clean things up, get healthy COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Big region games on deck for locals LOCAL COLUMNS
5. Mullen balances calling plays, running team COLLEGE SPORTS