By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A week after standing atop the SEC, Mississippi State couldn’t crack an NCAA tournament newcomer.
The Bulldogs’ 2012 season came to a stumbling end Sunday in this NCAA regional, as Samford took a 3-2 win at Dick Howser Stadium. It was MSU’s second loss in three days to the private school from Birmingham, which won the Southern Conference title.
This is Samford’s first appearance in an NCAA regional, and it found a way to get the best of an MSU squad that won the SEC Tournament title and entered the weekend having won eight of nine games. Some of the things that had gone so well during the late-season push went wrong Sunday.
Perhaps it was fatigue after playing six games in as many days en route to winning the SEC crown?
“Absolutely not. That had no play into it, whatsoever,” catcher Mitch Slauter said. “We had a good week of preparation. We just didn’t come in here with our best stuff this weekend.”
MSU (40-24) led 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh when Samford staged a two-out rally. A double by Brandon Miller scored Phillip Ervin to tie the game at 2-2, and then a throwing error by third baseman Sam Frost allowed Miller to score the go-ahead run.
“I thought I had to rush, (but) I had time and I just didn’t have a good grip on the ball and just spiked it,” said Frost, who was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts at the plate.
The two runs were the first allowed this year by reliever Jonathan Holder, a freshman who set a school record with 271/3 scoreless innings. He finished the season with a 0.32 ERA.
MSU had a rally going in the ninth, with Adam Frazier’s double putting men at second and third with one out. But Demarcus Henderson struck out and Brent Brownlee flew out to end the game.
“What a gutsy effort by a group of kids that have never been here before,” Samford coach Casey Dunn said.
Samford had 12 hits but left 13 men on base. A collective pitching effort – Jacob Lindgren, Ross Mitchell, Ben Bracewell and Chad Girodo – got MSU through some hairy situations until the seventh.
Miller had two hits and scored twice for Samford, and three other players had two hits apiece. Reliever Joseph Burns (4-1) got the win with 12/3 innings of shutout work.
MSU had a man on second with one out in the seventh when Burns entered, and the left-hander got a strikeout and groundout.
State had nine hits and left 10 men on base. It went ahead 1-0 in the first and then stranded two men in scoring position in the second.
Another run in the fourth made it 2-0, but two were stranded.
“And that’s what happens (with) guys who don’t have a lot of Division I baseball experience,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “That’s why experienced guys usually win. It’s not an excuse, it’s just a fact.”
The bats have been a liability for MSU all season, with youth and injuries the major culprits. In two games against Samford, MSU managed only two runs on 14 hits and stranded 18 runners.
“If you put (Samford) in a weekend series, we’re going to win that,” Slauter said. “It just didn’t fall our way in these two games, but they’re a better ball club than a lot of people out there know.”