FILE - For the first time under Mississippi State head coach John Cohen, Central Arkansas became the first non-SEC team to shutout the Bulldogs program in a 2-0 victory at Dudy Noble Field Tuesday. Photo by: MSU athletics
May 16, 2012 4:25:47 AM
STARKVILLE - Tuesday afternoon the University of Central Arkansas baseball team was in awe during their tour of the facilities around Dudy Noble Field.
After the national anthem, it was the Mississippi State University club that was in shock after suffering a 2-0 upset loss to that same UCA squad which was seemingly star struck by their surroundings hours before the first pitch.
MSU coach John Cohen could see the letdown coming and seemingly couldn't avoid the inevitable with a young lineup that was already going to be so focused on its Southeastern Conference season finale series versus the University of Kentucky this weekend.
"We should the team a 15-minute highlight tape because we knew (UCA) is going to be fired up to play this game," Cohen said. "If anybody in Bulldogs nation that thinks we didn't spend hours and hours and hours trying to get our kids fired up to play this ballgame, they're wrong."
If anybody knows the mindset of a low major coming to play an SEC team looking to make it into NCAA Regional play, it would Cohen after his three seasons at Northwestern State University (1998-00) when he's team's went 6-11 against BCS conference opponents or Top 25 programs in college baseball.
"Our kids did not meet that challenge," Cohen said. "We did everything and went overboard with our club because we knew this could happen. This is (UCA's) World Series. It's very discouraging to our staff because we warned them, worked them and our kids still didn't show."
The Bears scored single runs in the second and fifth innings and that was more than enough for Ethan McKenzie to grab the victory in his first start of the season. McKenzie (1-1), who came into Starkville with an earned run average just below 6, allowed five hits, walked one and struck out four in six innings on the mound. Bryce Biggerstaff threw the final three inning while facing two past the minimum for his first save of the season.
"That was just a complete ballgame tonight,' said UCA coach Allen Gum. "Pitching, defense and some timely hitting. We just played good baseball. When our guys play that kind of baseball, we can beat anybody."
The second inning run came after a leadoff double from Bryan Wilson and the Bears got a two-out walk for Griffin Claude and an RBI-single by Blake Roberts.
A one-out walk to Forrest Allday started things in the fifth inning. Blake Marchal followed with a single. A groundball out by Ethan Harris brought Allday home with the game's final run.
The victory marked the second victory over a Southeastern Conference opponent in the history of the UCA program with both of them coming in the Magnolia state. UCA beat the University of Mississippi 4-3 in Oxford in 2008. All this coming from a program that may have to win its final regular season series this weekend to qualify for the eight-team Southland Conference Tournament.
What became painfully clear for the Mississippi State University baseball program Tuesday night was certainly not a new problem.
For the entire 2012 season, the Bulldogs have had issues generating any consistent offensive momentum.
Tuesday's 2-0 loss to Central Arkansas University simply put a new low on a season that statistically has the opportunity to go down as the worst for MSU since they introduced metal bats to college baseball.
MSU (31-21), the worst hitting team in the Southeastern Conference in terms of batting average (.248) and slugging percentage (.335), had its offensive struggles showcase themselves once again against less-than-stellar pitching talent.
The loss to the Bears, a sixth place team in the Southland Conference, marked first time under Cohen that MSU was shutout by a non-SEC team with the last occurance being a 6-0 loss to Samford University in 2004.
The Bulldogs didn't have a have a single runner advance to second base throughout the evening and had five spots in the starting lineup not record a hit or a walk throughout the loss.
Since 1976, MSU has only had one season where they hit under .250 as a team (1976 when MSU hit .247) and only two seasons where they hit less than 30 home runs (1976 and 1980). This year's version of the Bulldogs are on a pace to accomplish both of those feats at the same time for the first time in 36 years.
Central Arkansas (24-26) turned two double plays and threw out another Bulldog on a steal attempt. The obvious question for Cohen and his staff before the Bulldogs embark on the most important stretch of the 2012 season is what to do about the lack of production.
"We have some deficiencies offensively," Cohen said. "It's like you missing a 10-foot putt. So I could scream at you and say [yelling in a much louder voice] hit the 10-foot putt!"
Cohen said he will not yell and scream at his team with less than 48 hours until MSU takes on the University of Kentucky in a SEC series finale that will decide how high the Bulldogs are seeded in next week's SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.
"You can't go nuts on your kids because the most important three games of the season are on Thursday, Friday and Saturday against Kentucky," Cohen said. "I love our kids and how they work but they have to put this in the rear view mirror."
However, with starters like freshman Wes Rea in a 1-for-41 slump and having four starters currently hitting under .225 for the season, Cohen doesn't see the benefit is making a lot of noise publicly around his team about the zeros being put up inning after inning.
"The problem with screaming at you is that's not going to help you hit the 10-foot putt is it," Cohen said asking the question in a rhetorical sense. "No. It's not an effort thing."
Central Arkansas (24-26) 2,
Mississippi State (31-21) 0.
W - Ethan McKinzie (1-1) 6 IP, 5 H, 0 R, BB, 4 K in 67 pitches
L - Brandon Woodruff (0-2) 4 IP, 5 H, ER, 2 BB, 4 K in 54 pitches
S - B. Biggerstaff (1) 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, K in 41 pitches
MVP: Ethan McKinzie
Turning point: 2nd inning - The second inning run came after a leadoff double from Bryan Wilson and the Bears got a two-out walk for Griffin Claude and an RBI-single by Blake Roberts.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
2. Summer musical promises 'magical' entertainment ENTERTAINMENT