By MATTHEW STEVENS
HOOVER, Ala. – Tired, lethargic and uninspiring are all words used for describing doing something at 9:30 a.m.
Subsequently all of those descriptions were applicable for the Mississippi State baseball team Thursday in a 7-2 loss eliminating them from the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament.
In a first inning that saw the first four Arkansas batters reach base, two errors by the MSU defense and four runs on the board for the 20th-ranked Razorbacks, the momentum of the elimination game had shifted dramatically before the clock struck 10 a.m..
“Obviously that first inning wasn’t our best,” Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said. “It seems like we gave a whole bunch of hits in the four-hole on the right side.”
Members of the Mississippi State team refused to acknowledge their earliest start time of the 2011 season as a reason for the disappointing opening half-inning.
“Being an elimination game, some guys may have more pressure on them today, but I don’t think us being tired had anything to do with it,” Parks said. “When you’re in the SEC Tournament, you shouldn’t have any excuse not to wake up. Even if the game was at 6:30, then we shouldn’t have an excuse to come out like that.”
Arkansas (37-19) pounded Bulldogs starting pitcher Nick Routt for the second time this season handing the left-hander four earned runs off eight hits and getting his pitch count to 90 before being removed just 3 1/3 innings into the contest.
Routt had the first three Arkansas hitters of the game in a 0-2 count but Razorbacks leadoff hitter Bo Bingham and centerfielder Collin Kuhn were able to get it back to 3-2 before earning a single and walk after 14 pitches.
“(Routt) is around the zone and so we just tried to go up and attack him,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “He tries to beat you with that fastball in and out. He’s got to prove he can throw the other pitches in the zone.”
Cohen said since Routt’s surgery to repair his pitching arm in 2010, the MSU junior has removed the circle changeup from his repertoire and he has been fighting how to get batters out with just a fastball and curveball.
“I don’t think that has anything to do with Arkansas,” Cohen said. “It just has to do with not being economical with his pitches. He’s just not really been able to rip through his changeup and that was a swing-and-miss pitch two years ago. When he gets to two strikes now, it’s kind of a bit of no man’s land.”
In the two matchups this year with the Razorbacks, Routt has a combined earned run average of 14.22 and failed to get out of the fourth inning each time.
Mississippi State (34-23) tried to keep its first trip to Hoover since 2007 alive when back-to-back doubles by Nick Vickerson and Jaron Shepherd closed the deficit to 5-2 and had Arkansas starting pitcher DJ Baxendale leaving the game.
However, freshman second baseman Adam Frazier grounded into the second of three double plays for the afternoon to squash the potential MSU rally.
“We literally thought we had a chance to win the game at that point,” Vickerson said. “We put up one more in that inning and get some momentum, things could’ve been a lot different.”
Arkansas was led at the plate by James McCann’s four-hit effort that included two runs scored and two RBIs.
Mississippi State left Regions Park continuing its four-game losing streak in the SEC Tournament that dates back to 2005 when the Bulldogs won the event. Additionally not a single member of the 2011 roster has won a postseason game in their career. Cohen’s record is now 1-6 in Hoover as a head coach at both Kentucky and MSU.
“There’s no question some of our kids experienced three years of failure are having a tough time in this league,” Cohen said. “When I arrived three years ago, I knew it was a process.”
Parks, who ended the day 2-for-4 with a double, currently sits tied for second in the league in hitting with LSU’s Mikie Mahtook with a .382 average.
Sophomore right-hander Chris Stratton came out of the bullpen for the first time in his college career to throw a perfect ninth inning that included a strikeout. It's expected Stratton will go back to his customary starting role if the season continues for MSU.
“He was really good and proud of what he did today,” Cohen said. “Last three or four starts weren’t what we wanted or what he wanted them to be for whatever reason.”
The Bulldogs will now have to wait until Memorial Day for the announcement at 11:30 a.m. on ESPN to see if and where they will be sent for NCAA Regional play on June 3.
If MSU is selected to the NCAA Tournament, it would be the school’s 25th appearance and the first since a trip to the College World Series in 2007.
“You see things change in the postseason,” Cohen said. “You can get a different ball club out there. I really believe this group can catch fire when pitching and defense is at a premium.”