FILE - Mississippi State junior catcher Mitch Slauter had two RBIs and two runs scored in a 11-3 victory over Kentucky Saturday Photo by: MSU athletics
May 20, 2012 5:52:33 PM
STARKVILLE - Mississippi State University baseball John Cohen made sure Sunday he was still the only skipper in the history of University of Kentucky to win a Southeastern Conference championship.
In a complete role reversal from six years, Cohen prevented Kentucky from winning the league at Dudy Noble Field with an 11-3 upset victory to complete a sweep in the regular season finale series.
"I feel like we can compete against anybody in the country," Cohen said. "The whole thing is trying to get on a roll in tournament play."
MSU (34-21, 16-14 in SEC play) used the highest hit total in conference play to cruise to a dominating victory over the 4th-ranked Wildcats.
"I'd like to think we can get on a roll and our kids are really confident, they should be," Cohen said. "These kids really have the grind it out mentality that we ask of them. Everything we've asked them to do, these kids have done to the highest level."
MSU finished with the highest number of SEC wins since 2003 and as the No. 7 seed will play the 6-seeded University of Arkansas Tuesday in the second game of the SEC Tournament at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala.
"I can't say I'd really like to play us in a tournament right now with as hot as we are because we're putting it together," MSU junior Mitch Slauter said.
In the classic small-ball mentality Cohen has brought to MSU since leaving Kentucky to take the job at his alma mater, the Bulldogs were able to score Sunday with three runs off squeeze bunts and three runs off Kentucky fielding errors.
"What a lot of us were brought in to do is the small ball and use our speed," MSU sophomore Demarcus Henderson said.
Henderson had his first multi-RBI game of the season as the Bulldogs utility player had two hits and drove in three after being called in to replace left fielder Tyler Fullerton Sunday.
"I just told myself that with guys being able to freeze me with curveballs and something inside that I wasn't going to get beat that way," Henderson said. "If anything my goal was simply to put the ball in play."
Sophomore left-handed pitcher Corey Littrell was given the hook after 4 1/3 innings where MSU ran his pitch count up to 86 after he surrendered seven runs on seven hits mostly due to damage in the fourth and fifth frames.
After LSU defeated South Carolina 3-2 in Columbia at about 3 p.m. local, Kentucky (41-15, 18-12) had the opportunity to maintain a 2-0 lead for the No. 1 seed in next week's SEC Tournament.
Instead the Bulldogs rallied back for the next 11 runs of the game to close out a depressing sweep for the Wildcats and take them back to Lexington, Ky., with the 4-seed in the event.
"I'm really proud of what (Kentucky head coach Gary Henderson) has done at Kentucky this season because that club was counted out by a lot of people before the season and they've turned in one of the best performances in the country," Cohen said of his former assistant at UK. "I think he's the coach of the year in the Southeastern Conference and there's no doubt about that."
Reliever Jacob Lindgren (2-2), a freshman who was drafted last summer in the 12th round by the Chicago Cubs, got the win by going the furthest in his college career. The southpaw tossed 5 1/3 innings while allowing just one run off three hits and striking out seven thanks to a devastating combination of two-seam fastball and power slider.
"My two-seam fastball was really working down to right-handed hitters today and I had to get them to chase my slider," Lindgern said. "It's not real complicated for me because that's just what I do."
It was a weekend where MSU, a team that came into this series hitting just .249 this season, batted at a .320 clip against a Top 10 ranked team as he 31 hits during this series ties for the most this season.
"We've been making adjustments and things are about to turn around for us," Slauter said. "I honestly felt like that everything we hit all week was hard. Even we they didn't fall it was well struck and you could leave the at-bat with confidence."
The 16 conference wins mark the most for the ballclub since a 17-12 conference finish in 2003. The Bulldogs finish with a 28-8 ledger at Dudy Noble Field, which last happened when the 1997 squad finished with 28 home wins. The Bulldogs win five league series and compiled an 11-4 finish in the last 15 games, which is the best stretch to close a season since 1989.
The unsung hero for the Bulldogs may have been Jacob Lindgren. In relief of starter Evan Mitchell, Lindgren (2-2) threw 5 1/3 innings, allowing three hits and one run, with seven strikeouts.
This rookie lefty from Bay St. Louis was named the SEC freshman of the week Sunday after turning in a career-best pitching performance and earning his initial SEC win in Saturday's series sweep-clinching win over the Wildcats.
Mississippi State (34-21, 16-14) 11.
No. 4 Kentucky (41-15, 18-12) 3
W - Jacob Lindgren (2-2) 5.1 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 K in 68 pitches
L - Corey Littrell (8-1) 4.1IP, 7 H, 7 R, 5 ER, BB, 6 K in 86 pitches
MVP: Mississippi State LF Demarcus Henderson (2-for-3 with 3 RBIs)
Turning point: 4th and 5th inning - The Bulldogs erased a 2-0 deficit with three runs in the fourth inning and five scores in the fifth inning - their best run-scoring inning in league play this season.
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