HOOVER, Ala. — The Mississippi State baseball team crashed out of the Southeastern Conference on Thursday in large part to self-inflicted mistakes.
Two errors, two inning-ending double plays, and four runs conceded in the first inning of a 7-2 loss to the University of Arkansas showed a team that was “lethargic,” according to coach John Cohen.
Even when things looked like they would turn around in the bottom of the first, Nick Vickerson was thrown out on a first-to-third pickoff move for the inning”s final out.
Was there a hangover from MSU”s 7-5 loss to the University of Florida on Wednesday in which MSU blew a 5-2 lead in the seventh? Did the Bulldogs struggle with the short turnaround less than 24 hours after losing to Florida?
The questions are irrelevant today, but for the second time in three games Cohen hinted the enormity of playing in the SEC tournament or playing for a spot in the tournament affected his team”s performance.
“It really mirrors my experience at Kentucky a little bit (in that) this is the first time any of them have competed in the tournament,” Cohen said. “I think in some ways they”re trying to do the incredible, the spectacular, instead of doing some average things. I think we fell victim to that.”
After MSU”s loss to LSU in the final game of the regular season, Cohen thought his players didn”t take good swings because they were “trying too hard” knowing what was on the line.
MSU didn”t know Auburn”s loss at Tennessee helped it clinch a berth in the eight-team tournament, but the Bulldogs were still battling LSU from a game-long deficit for a share of the Western Division crown.
Third baseman Jarrod Parks admitted the following day players were “tight” against LSU, and he looked forward to the team playing its best baseball with the weight of trying to get into the tournament lifted off its back.
Parks rejected suggestions the 9:30 a.m. start Thursday affected the team”s play. Instead, he said the pressure of the moment was to blame.
“Being an elimination game, people might have had a little bit more pressure on their backs,” Parks said.
Aside from the errors and three double plays the Bulldogs grounded into, Cohen bemoaned starting pitcher Nick Routt”s short outing that included eight hits, three walks, two wild pitches, and 90 pitches in 3 1/3 innings.
In the past seven games, only Evan Mitchell (against Florida) has given the Bulldogs a start of five or more innings.
Despite growing concerns about pitching and the uncertainty of the team”s chances of earning a bid to the NCAA tournament — MSU is No. 28 in RPI despite two losses in Hoover — Cohen believes the Bulldogs, who won 9 of 10 games to secure a berth in the SEC tournament, won”t be denied a bid to the NCAA tournament after losing four of their past five games. He said he is looking forward to playing in a NCAA regional.
“You see things change in the postseason,” Cohen said. “You see things in a regional, where it”s a new season and you can get a different ball club out there.
“I really believe this group can catch fire, especially when defense and pitching is at a premium in the postseason. I think our kids, if we get in the tournament, can win games. I think we have a chance to win a regional.”