By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
HOOVER, Ala. – John Cohen believes in Brandon Woodruff’s future. The Mississippi State coach believed in Woodruff on Tuesday, too.
The freshman right-hander pitched five shutout innings to earn his first career victory in MSU’s 9-1 win over Arkansas in the first round of the SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs (35-21), seeded seventh, will take on No. 1 seed LSU (42-14) this afternoon at Regions Park.
A Daily Journal All-Area player at Wheeler, Woodruff (1-2) got the start against Arkansas (39-18) ahead of some veterans that Cohen was considering. He allowed no runs on two hits, striking out five and walking one.
“He did a great job shoving the baseball in the strike zone,” Cohen said. “He gets some soft contact. He’s going to be a phenomenal pitcher, and we know that.”
Woodruff said he was able to relax a bit after first baseman Wes Rea, in his first career postseason at-bat, slammed a three-run homer to give MSU a 3-0 lead in the second inning.
Woodruff managed to escape a couple of bases-loaded jams in the third and fifth innings – one with a strikeout, the other with a double play on a comebacker to the mound.
“Coming in I was a little anxious, a little nervous, first SEC start,” Woodruff said. “But after I got in and settled down, I was fine.
“And then after Wes hit his home run and got three runs up, I kind of settled in after that and knew I had to throw strikes and let my defense work.”
Although MSU committed two errors, there were some defensive gems, particularly by shortstop Adam Frazier, who added three hits. Demarcus Henderson had two hits, and Sam Frost knocked in a pair of runs.
Arkansas cut the MSU lead to 3-1 on Matt Vinson’s RBI single in the sixth, but otherwise the Bulldog bullpen kept things quiet.
“I felt like the momentum was going to swing our way, and it just never did,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said.
MSU’s bats came alive again in the ninth, when it scored six runs, all of them unearned.
Freshman Jonathan Holder got the final five outs for his seventh save.
The Razorbacks, seeded sixth, stranded seven runners in scoring position and 11 total. They had seven hits to MSU’s nine.
It didn’t help Arkansas that its leading hitter, Matt Reynolds, left the game early after being hit in the elbow by a pitch.
Starter Ryne Stanek (6-4), who beat MSU in Starkville during the regular season, gave up three runs on four hits in 52/3 innings. He walked five.
This was MSU’s first SEC Tournament win since 2005, when it won the whole thing.