By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
HOOVER, Ala. – Beyond the fact that Mississippi State made the SEC Tournament field for the first time in four years, it was not a memorable two days at Regions Park.
The sluggish Bulldogs were the first team sent home Thursday after a 7-2 loss to No. 2 seed Arkansas in an elimination game that began at 9:36 a.m. Errors, missed opportunities at the plate and aggressive Arkansas hitters were among the lowlights for sixth-seeded MSU (34-23), which had fallen into the loser’s bracket with Wednesday’s 7-5 loss to Florida.
The good news is, an NCAA Regional berth likely awaits the Bulldogs. And third-year coach John Cohen wasn’t overly concerned about the quick exit, because he’s been down this road before.
“This really mirrors my experience at Kentucky a little bit,” he said. “This is the first time any of them have competed in an SEC Tournament. I think in some ways they’re trying to do the incredible and spectacular instead of doing average things. I think we fell victim to that a little bit.”
State committed two errors and hit into three double plays, twice with a man in scoring position. The second DP killed a promising rally in the fourth inning, when MSU scored both its runs to cut the Arkansas lead to 5-2.
Nick Vickerson and Jaron Shepherd hit back-to-back RBI doubles off Arkansas starter D.J. Baxendale, and there were runners at first and second with one out when freshman Adam Frazier grounded into a double play.
“Most of them came in big-time situations where a hit could’ve broken the game out,” Baxendale said. “They were huge for me, and they were able to get me out of some tough innings.”
Arkansas (37-19) tacked on a run in both the fifth and sixth innings, and MSU couldn’t do any more with reliever Barrett Astin than it could with Baxendale (9-2), who allowed two runs on six hits in five innings.
Astin worked the final four frames for his third save.
MSU had eight hits, including three doubles. Jarrod Parks had two hits, the first a first-inning double that went for nought after Vickerson got picked off first base to end the inning.
That happened after two errors aided the Razorbacks’ four-run outburst to open the game. Matt Reynolds hit an RBI single, and another run came in on Shepherd’s error in right field to make it 3-0.
James McCann then scored on a wild pitch.
Parks wasn’t buying any excuses about the early start time throwing the Bulldogs off kilter.
“When you’re in the SEC Tournament, you shouldn’t have any excuse to wake up,” he said. “If the game’s at 6:30, we shouldn’t have an excuse to be tired.”
Beginning of the end
McCann’s RBI single with one out in the fourth pushed the lead to 5-0 and ended starter Nick Routt’s day. The junior left-hander was charged with five runs – four earned – on eight hits. Routt (2-3) struck out six and walked three, and he tossed 36 pitches in the first inning.
It was the second tough outing of the season for Routt against the Hogs. In Fayetteville on April 16, he allowed six runs in three innings.
“Credit to him getting ahead in the count as much as he did. He just couldn’t finish it,” Cohen said. “Since he had the injury last year, he’s not been able to really rip through his changeup.”
Baxendale, meanwhile, pitched through some tenderness that his coach didn’t even know about until the fifth inning. He threw 76 pitches.
Arkansas collected 14 hits, including four from McCann. The Razorbacks were coming off a 7-4 loss to Alabama and refocused their plate approach before playing MSU.