By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Nick Routt was a little sore Tuesday, but it was a good kind of hurt.
The ache reminded Routt of what he’d accomplished two days earlier, when he threw 115 pitches in a complete-game effort against Georgia Tech, a game Mississippi State won 7-3 to clinch the NCAA Atlanta Regional. The Bulldogs (37-23) visit No. 2 national seed Florida (48-16) for a best-of-three super regional series starting Friday.
Routt (3-3, 3.78 ERA), a junior left-hander, is a candidate to start one of the first two games.
His Sunday showing capped a weekend of strong starting pitching for MSU. Sophomore Luis Pollorena tossed six shutout innings on Friday; freshman Evan Mitchell worked eight scoreless innings before being chased in a three-run ninth; and Routt gave up three runs on six hits with six strikeouts.
For a rotation that’s been in flux all season, that was a very good sign.
“I just think we finally kind of got back to where we were early on in the year,” Routt said. “People that weren’t starting early in the year, like Pollo and me, we finally had some good outings, and hopefully that’ll lead to more good outings.”
Routt won’t be lacking for confidence this weekend. When he started against the Gators on April 10 in Starkville, he gave up just one run on six hits in five innings.
He’s been a bit up and down since then, but Sunday was the apex – so far – of Routt’s season. The same can be said for the rotation as a whole.
“All three of them got to both sides of the plate with their fastball,” coach John Cohen said. “When you do that, when you have a (batter) who can’t focus on one side of the plate or on the other, it really changes their game plan offensively.”
Mitchell and Routt each had his longest outing of the season, while it was the second-longest for Pollorena. That allowed Cohen to be pickier than normal with how he used his bullpen, which has been the strength of this staff the whole season.
Closer Caleb Reed had to pitch only once in Atlanta, working the final three innings after Pollorena in Friday’s 3-0 win over Southern Miss. The only other relief work was an inning by Darryl Norris in Saturday’s 8-3 victory over Austin Peay.
The pitchers aren’t the only ones drawing confidence from their success. It’s spread to the rest of the team.
“I love the way they were working at a fast pace, coming at people on 0-2 instead of wasting a pitch. I was loving it,” senior infielder Nick Vickerson said. “To see them doing that, to seem them fighting for you, everybody’s a little more focused at the plate and a little more focused in the field because you’re on your toes the whole time.”
In four meetings with Florida this year, MSU’s starters gave up 14 runs in 142⁄3 innings, an ERA of 8.59. Those numbers were skewed by the Gators’ 18-0 win on April 9, when Chris Stratton yielded seven runs in 12⁄3 innings.
Routt thinks the previous meetings will benefit MSU’s pitchers this weekend.
“They’re similar to Georgia Tech’s hitters,” Routt said. “A lot of them take big swings trying to hit home runs. They’ll swing and miss some, so (we can) get some punchouts there.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571