By Brad Locke
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Mississippi State prides itself on its short game, but the Bulldogs struggled in that department Sunday in a season-ending 3-2 loss to Samford in the NCAA regional.
MSU led 1-0 in the second with runners at the corners when Mitch Slauter tried a safety squeeze to score Wes Rea. But the 296-pound first baseman was thrown out at home by Samford pitcher Kyle Putkonen.
Then in the fourth, State had men at first and second. Again Slauter bunted, and again Rea was thrown out as the lead runner.
“We had a couple of bunts that we didn’t get into the kill zone,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “We got it outside that 28-, 32-foot radius, which is something we work on every day. We just didn’t execute that a couple of times, but that can happen.”
Then in the ninth, with Samford up 3-2, MSU had a chance to tie or take the lead with men on second and third and one out. Demarcus Henderson, who had singled earlier in the game, was told to swing away instead of bunting.
With Samford’s infield playing in on the grass, Henderson chased a breaking ball down and struck out.
“I just told Demarcus, ‘There’s an open base here. He’s going to throw you sliders, and I don’t think they’re going to let you beat them,’” Cohen said. “… I think Demarcus went to a little bit of effort there, and you can’t succeed in that realm until you experience it. And he’s never experienced that before in a regional, where everything’s riding on it.”
Cohen: ‘My fault’
MSU’s offensive struggles have been well-documented. It finished the 2012 season with a .251 batting average, with only Adam Frazier (.371) hitting better than .273.
The Bulldogs lost a lot of hitters off last year’s team, which reached the super regional round. Injuries didn’t help matters, either.
“We’re not a very good offensive club yet,” Cohen said. “When that happens, I think we have a chance to be among the elite programs in the country. But you can’t put as much pressure on our pitching staff and our defense as we do every day, because we’re not executing some things offensively.
“That’s my responsibility, that’s my fault.”
Matthew Britton, a freshman infielder who struggled at the plate this year, went 4 of 7 with three runs and an RBI in Tallahassee. Slauter was 4 of 11 with an RBI and a run scored.
Frazier, the SEC Tournament MVP, was 3 of 11 with two runs scored. He had two hits on Sunday.