John Cohen was sitting in the press box Sunday afternoon watching Central Arkansas play South Alabama, and in his hands were two large laminated sheets. They were color coded and chock full of information. Scouting reports.
Cohen does his homework on every team Mississippi State faces. He certainly knew all about Central Arkansas, a team MSU had faced four times already before Sunday night’s matchup. He knew the tendencies, strengths, weaknesses of the hitters. That included, of course, shortstop Justin Treece, a weak-hitting player in the bottom third of UCA’s order.
Coming into Sunday, Treece was batting .232 with five doubles and a slugging percentage of just .258. So when he came to bat in the sixth inning Sunday, Cohen made sure left fielder Demarcus Henderson was playing in toward the infield. Then Treece promptly launched a ball that, had he been playing normal depth, Henderson probably would have tracked down. But it got over his head for a two-run double to give the Bears a 5-2 lead. That’s the way the score stayed, and that’s why the teams meet again tonight in a winner-take-all game in the Starkville Regional.
After the game, Cohen talked about Treece’s hit and what went into his thinking on playing Henderson shallow.
“The Treece kid hits the double, because we’re really shallow there, and Treece has five extra-base hits in 200 at-bats. So we’re trying to not get beat in front, and he burned us right there on a pitch that was on the inner half – it was not a bad pitch. To his credit, he did a great job. I tell you what, I don’t know who the statistician is for Central Arkansas, but they can’t be right, because there’s no way that guy has only five extra-base hits coming in, and there’s no way he’s got 17 errors, because he’s all over the field. He made incredible plays defensively today.”
Treece was indeed superb in the field, certainly much sharper than his MSU counterpart, Adam Frazier, who made two errors in one inning.
“He’s played outstanding against us five times in a row,” Cohen said. “So much for statistical analysis, because he’s an all-star against us.”
The stats don’t quite back up that claim, at least offensively. Treece is 3 for 17 with two RBIs and two runs in five games against MSU, but he has been very good in the field, with one error. He had a game-high seven assists last night.
If you do a scouting report on Frazier, it says he’s a very strong fielder. So last night’s performance was atypical. Twice in the third inning he made errors on what are normally routine plays for the junior. On the first, he fielded a Treece grounder and flew the throw to second base into right field. A few batters later, with the bases loaded, Frazier scooped up what appeared to be an inning-ending double-play ball, stepped on second, and then threw short and wide of first base.
Two runs came in to give UCA a 2-1 lead.
“The two in one inning are so uncharacteristic of Adam. I know he’ll come out tomorrow and be good for us,” Cohen said.
Cohen felt that without Frazier’s second error and without Treece’s double, the game might have ended differently.
“I felt like it was a two-pitch ballgame,” he said.