SEC Tournament Final: Arkansas 7, MSU 2

HOOVER | A recap of MSU’s loss in the elimination round of the SEC Tournament.

The buzz: Somebody didn’t have their coffee this morning, and it wasn’t me. The Bulldogs (34-23) looked sloppy from the get-go, with a four-run first inning putting Arkansas (37-19) ahead to stay. It wasn’t any better offensively, as State managed to kill its own rallies with double-play balls and by falling for the old fake-throw-to-third-and-throw-it-to-first move by Arkansas starter D.J. Baxendale (Nick Vickerson was the one picked off, first inning). So MSU goes back to Starkville and awaits its NCAA Regional fate.

Big inning: That first inning – Arkansas was the visiting team, by the way – began with a single, a walk, an error and another single, with a wild pitch thrown in for good measure. It was 1-0 at that point, then Matt Reynolds hit an RBI single, and another run scored on right fielder Jaron Shepherd‘s fielding error. The final run came courtesy of another wild pitch by Nick Routt.

Key stats: MSU hit into three double plays, so don’t let the four men left on base fool you. … Routt threw 36 pitches in that first inning. … Arkansas was 5 of 20 with runners in scoring position, but the key stat there is it had 20 at-bats with men in scoring position.

MSU at the plate: MSU had eight hits, three of them doubles, but the double plays erased some good scoring opportunities. Jarrod Parks had two hits, including a double.

Arkansas at the plate: The Hogs collected 14 hits, including four from catcher James McCann, who had two RBIs. Four other players had at least two hits. Arkansas left 10 men on base.

MSU on the mound: Routt (2-3) threw 90 pitches in 3 1/3 innings, giving up five runs (four earned) on eight hits. He struck out six and walked three. He got ahead in the count often – 15 first-pitch strikes to 22 batters – but couldn’t finish the deal. Darryl Norris worked an inning, followed by Caleb Reed for 3 2/3 innings (one run on five hits). Chris Stratton pitched the ninth so he wouldn’t leave Hoover with no action. He retired the Hogs in order with a strikeout.

Arkansas on the mound: Baxendale (9-2) wasn’t feeling well but didn’t let anyone know about it until midway through the game. You certainly couldn’t tell, as he gave up just two runs (both earned) on six hits in five innings. He fanned three and walked two on 76 pitches. Barrett Astin pitched the final four innings, allowing no runs and two hits to earn his third save.

Bottom line: MSU coach John Cohen thought the combination of no tournament experience plus an early start time (9:30 a.m.) might have contributed to the Bulldogs’ struggles today. It was not an encouraging performance, although Cohen thought his players settled in after that slow start.

Quotable: “I think we’re going to do nothing but great things, maybe even a week from now.” – Cohen, talking about the NCAA Regionals

Up next: We’ll find out Monday, when NCAA Regional bids are handed out. I’d say MSU is safely in, probably as a No. 3 seed. Where? Anybody’s guess.

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