Mississippi State head coach John Cohen still believes that if he’s able to put the game in the hands of his senior leaders it will lead to victory.
That theory certainly let him down Sunday in a disappointing 3-1 loss to No. 4 Florida to drop the final two games of the weekend series against the Gators.
In the seventh inning of a tie game, Bulldogs shortstop Jonathan Ogden had a ground ball straight to him – a play his coach says he’s made 150 times a day in practice – and simply couldn’t get a handle on the baseball. The senior bobbled the two-hop shot and the ball died underneath his glove without him being able to make a throw.
“(The ball) just got underneath me and I couldn’t get a good grip, couldn’t get the ball out of my glove,” Ogden said. “I’m not finding my comfort zone where I’m normally at out there but we’ll get that fixed."
It was the second error of the contest and team-high 12th for the season for Ogden and the very next batter, Florida (26-7, 9-3 in SEC play) responded with a RBI-single by right fielder Preston Tucker to give the Gators their first lead of the afternoon which stood up.
“Our seniors probably had the roughest day of the season collectively and I love them, they work hard for us but they didn’t have a great day today,” Cohen said. “We did a lot of average things wrong.”
The Bulldogs seniors were 6-for-24 at the plate with six strikeouts and as a team managed to just hit 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position. State had no success against Florida’s southpaw arms going 0-for-6 and 10-52 for the weekend.
“We’re not putting the barrel where we want it with runners in scoring position,” Cohen said. “Again, I’m just a little surprised because it’s our senior guys right now.”
Mississippi State (21-11, 5-7) put runners on base in each of the last two innings including a bases-loaded situation produced off Florida closer Anthony DeSclafani but senior catcher Wes Thigpen produced a fly out to right and C.T. Bradford, the 2010 Mr. Baseball in the state of Florida, had a pop fly by the MSU dugout end up in the glove of Gators third baseman Zack Powers after the freshman leaped against the side of the fence to retrieve the final out.
Powers was 2-for-3 at the plate Sunday while scoring the tying run of the game. The freshman was 4-for-8 for the weekend after coming into Starkville batting just .208.
DeSclafani, who blew a save in his previous appearance Tuesday night against Central Florida, was taken out of the ballgame and Gators first baseman Austin Maddox recorded the final two outs for his first save of the season.
Mississippi State’s only run came off an RBI-single from Thigpen that scored Ogden but in a controversial play Adam Frazier was called out at home plate after the freshman was waved around to score. Cohen immediately went out to argue the call with home plate umpire Jack Cox with the argument being that not only did it appear to the MSU third-year coach that Gators catcher Mike Zunino didn't tag Frazier but the senior backstop never gave the runner a path to slide into home.
“To me there’s no question what I thought – I wouldn’t come out there if I didn’t feel like that,” Cohen said. “We have a real good view of it and it’s a very difficult job back there. There’s a human element to the game and that’s one of the things you can’t control.”
Under NCAA baseball rules, a runner is not allowed to plow into the catcher on a play at the plate and is immediately ejected if he does so. MSU freshman Taylor Stark has already received that punishment during the 2011 season.
Florida got a solid 5 1/3 innings from freshman starting pitcher Karsten Whitson but another heavy pitch count early in the game forced one of the best high school right-handed arms in 2010 to leave Dudy Noble Field with a no-decision. Whitson and his representation turned down a $2.1 million offer and decided to honor his commitment to the University of Florida after being drafted ninth overall by the San Diego Padres in the 2010 MLB amateur draft last June.
“He was pretty efficient and we swung at a lot of balls,” Cohen said. “We had a small strike zone to work with offensively today and we swung at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone. I’m not a hundred percent sure he threw three strikes to any hitter in the first two times through the order.”
With the loss, Mississippi State falls into a three-way tie for third in the SEC Western Division and seventh overall in the league standings with Ole Miss and Auburn.
“They never stopped competing and I’m proud of them for that but at some point the competing stuff needs to end at some point and time and a ‘w’ needs to step forward,” Cohen said.
Bulldogs junior left-handed starter Nick Routt went the furthest on the mound in any of his four starts during the 2011 season by giving up one earned run on just one hit in five innings of work that included five strikeouts and 88 pitches.
“I was working (the fastball) to both sides of the plate, working it up and down, changing speeds on it,” Routt said. “My arm felt good and I wanted to go back out there but the pitch count was a soft 80 today.”
Mississippi State will be back in action Wednesday as they finish the final five innings of the March 9 game at Alabama-Birmingham with the Blazers up 4-3, but MSU has two runners and nobody out in that contest.
The Bulldogs will then hit the road for a weekend three-game tilt at Arkansas.