Kevin Coker is a senior catcher for Southern Miss who will contribute a weekly journal to in 2006. A native of Vicksburg, Miss., Coker started 52 games last year for the Golden Eagles, batting .318 with five homers and 38 RBI.  Off the field, Coker enjoys fishing and shooting pool.






March 22, 2006

The Arms Race


Editor's Note: This edition was written before and after Southern Miss' game against South Alabama.


Pre-Game: We owe all three wins this past weekend to our pitchers. I thought they did a great job for us all weekend.


Troy came into “The Pete” and had put up no fewer than 16 runs per game in the previous weekend, and they scored a total of 53 runs in that weekend series. Against us, our pitchers held them to only four runs for the whole weekend, so hats off to the pitchers, and we can give all three wins to them.


Scott Massey set the tone for us Friday night. Every pitch that he threw was to the spot he intended to throw it. David Clark followed Massey on Saturday and did the same thing. He threw a few more pitches than Scott, so we had to come get him a little earlier, but everyone who pitched after him was terrific, too. Matt Caire, Ryan Belanger and Daniel Best all followed up Clark and pitched outstanding. They did exactly what they were asked to do, which is to help us win the game. Cliff followed their performances Sunday by doing what he does - Cliff got to Matt, and then Matt got to Daniel, and that was your ballgame.


Cliff and I were talking the other day about the change in the weekend pitching rotation (Massey on Fridays, Clark on Saturdays and Russum on Sundays), and we discussed how there are some pros and cons of pitching on Sunday. For one thing, by Sunday we have already gone through a whole weekend, and I know what to throw to each hitter because I have seen them the previous two days. Trial and error happens on Friday and Saturday, and by Sunday we should know exactly how to pitch to the opposing team’s hitters. If by Sunday we still don’t know how to pitch to their hitters, then it’s going to be hard to win those games.


Cliff is a team player, and he is all about what he can do to win the game. Whether he pitches on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, it really doesn’t matter to him as long as we are winning games. Cliff is kind of like how I am in the fact that what he really hates the most is losing. I think that whenever Cliff pitches, whether it’s on Friday or Sunday, he just wants to do well. He wants to get wins by helping us win games, so it’s not a big deal to him. Nor was it a big deal to Scott or David. Those are three guys who when coach tells them to go pitch, they go out there and pitch, and I think that we have a pitching staff like that right now all the way through.


We are rallying around our pitchers right now, and we are getting some timely hits, but our hitting is going to come around. We are hitting the ball hard, but we are just hitting it right to people. We are trying to figure a few things out, hitting-wise, but we are definitely rallying around our pitchers right now.


Coming into last weekend’s series, Troy had a great RPI (Ratings Percentage Index), and RPI is a big deal in baseball.


RPI is like a big equation. It’s like you have a big pot with wins and loses in there. You also factor in wins and losses against good and bad teams, and losing to bad teams is like giving up an interception for a touchdown in football. It’s terrible. Wins against great teams can equal a lot, too. Right now, the number one team in the nation is Mississippi State. If we were to win two games against them, and then turn around and lose to “O-500 Homer Simpson University” or whoever it may be, those two wins and losses would cancel each other out and you would fall right back into the middle. Alabama’s RPI was 3 when we went to Tuscaloosa to play them, with their losses being against really good teams on the road. The main thing with RPI is strength of schedule and winning the games that you are supposed to win.


We knew that Alabama was a great team, but we just wish that we could have had a better outing against them than what we got. However, we showed a lot of character this past weekend by bouncing back against Troy, and I think that good teams bounce back after bad losses. I could hardly recognize our team as terrible as we played against Alabama. Nobody on our team recognized who we were. We didn’t play like ourselves, but we were able to bounce back in a big way. We played with a lot of energy this past weekend, and that our energy level made up for a lack of runs scored by us.


Toddric Johnson hit a home run on Sunday, which was the only home run of the weekend for either team, and home runs bring a lot of energy. To make up for the lack of homers, we had two guys thrown out a home plate this weekend, which were huge plays. We had double-play balls being turned, diving catches, strikeouts and just all-around plays that really kept our energy up. The excitement level in the crowd really does trigger the excitement level that we have as players. It really echoed what we had going on, and I think that if we can keep that intensity level for the rest of the season we are going to be a really great team.


Post-Game: What an emotional win! We came out and won a tough one tonight. We jumped on them early, but South Alabama did what they always seem to do, and that is to fight back.


We knocked them down in the first round, and then they came back in the fifth and hit us in the teeth, so we had to check ourselves and see what we were made of. The win all goes back to our pitching and our defense. We had a double play that got us out of a jam along with some outstanding pitching performances. Good pitching beats good hitting, and like I say time and time again, our pitching is blowing us through everyone. The pitchers are the reason we are standing tall and winning games because they are going out there and getting the job done. Every pitcher we throw out there is going out and throwing strikes, getting ground balls and doing everything that they are supposed to do.


I have a feeling if we give up only four runs a game by our pitching staff like we did tonight, then we can win every game for the rest of the season. You really can’t say enough about the pitchers because they are doing such a great job. Coach Palmer got on them at the beginning of the season for walking a lot of people early on. Now they are throwing strikes and are competing, and I am so proud of all of our pitchers. It starts at the top with the weekend guys and then boils over.


Patrick Ezell pitched great tonight, and Barry Bowden pitches next, and he is going to do what he does best. He loves pitching on the road and at night, so I think that he is going to go out and pitch great tomorrow night.


Coach Berry made a good point by saying any win against South Alabama is a good win. It might not be the prettiest win, but it still can be considered a good win. There’s no love lost between us and them, so the minute that bell goes “ding,” it’s a dog fight all the way until the last bell ring. I’m just glad that our bell ringer at the end of the game is Daniel Best, and he always gets the job done. I think this win showed a lot of team character because we became rattled and could have really got on our heels, but we weathered the storm in that big inning (fifth) they had where they scored four runs. I can’t express how great this win is!


Being 23 years old, I’ve been in this game a long time, and being a fifth-year senior, I knew that the game was not over when we scored five runs to take the early lead. I am not going to say that Patrick Ezell let up, because he didn’t. He was still throwing the same pitches as he was earlier, but they were battling him. Instead of grounding into double plays, their ground balls started to find holes. One miscommunication on the home run was the only ball that I can remember them hitting really well.


This is baseball, and teams are going to give their all to come back when they are down, but I am extremely proud of the character this team has shown. We had a big game by our shortstop Brian Dozier, who had two triples on the night. I don’t think that I have had two triples before in my life, and he had two tonight (which tied a school record for most in a single game). He came out tonight and swung the bat well. Once again, you can’t say enough about our pitching staff. I know that I am repeating myself, but they really are doing a great thing for us by keeping us in games.


When you have that sort of competition of knowing you will be in every game, you can go into the game with a better mindset as opposed to last year when we had some injuries. Last year, Cliff was out with the shoulder and Mike Cashion was having an outstanding year for us, striking out 10 a game when he went down midway through the year. At that point, we had to make people starters last year who were not even supposed to be a starter in order to get a team out there to compete.


Now, you can just look at the numbers and the difference at our pitching staff from the starters to the relievers. My roommate, Matt Caire, is a stopper. He comes into the game and gets six to nine outs by just bringing smoke. He’s not a starting pitcher, and he knows that, but he loves his role because he sets up for the best closer (Best) in the country. I’ll go out on a limb and say that Matt is the best setup man for the best closer in the country, and on top of that, we have another great setup man in Belanger that gives us two great setup men.


Overall, there is a different feeling this year because we know who’s going to pitch every game. Luckily, “knocking on wood” here, we’ll be injury-free with a great pitching staff to go along with a great conference year and a great season.


This time next week, I hope to be talking to you 3-0 in C-USA. However, before we do that, we’re going to Monroe next to play Louisiana-Monroe, and anything can happen in Louisiana. I’m not saying that Louisiana is bad; I’m saying that Louisiana baseball teams are scrappy. They’re all scrappy, no matter which team you go against. So we’ll go over to Monroe, bringing Barry Bowden, who I think is going to have a good game. So let’s go get em’.


Kevin Coker


Previous Entries

Midweek Showdown with the Crimson Tide (3/14/06)

Getting the Offense in Gear (3/8/06)

Leaning on the Freshmen (3/1/06)

The Fun has Begun (2/21/06)


(photo courtesy of Southern Miss Media Relations Office)