Mississippi State players gather around Matthew Britton, center, after he hit the game winning rbi on a hit in a 4-3 ten inning win over LSU in a NCAA college baseball game during the Southeastern Conference tournament in Hoover, Ala., Friday, May 25, 2012.
May 26, 2012 12:26:41 AM
HOOVER, Ala. - The Mississippi State University baseball team continues to beat the odds.
In the classic matter-of-fact manner MSU head coach John Cohen used economic logic to have his team remain alive after a dramatic 4-3 10-inning victory over No. 2 Louisiana State in 10 innings Friday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament at Regions Park.
"Well, we give them meal money for the whole week so why not win it?" Cohen asked in a joking manner.
The Bulldogs couldn't have been favored against a second-ranked Louisiana State University with a true freshman on the mound making his ever first collegiate start.
After left-hander Jacob Lindgren struggled through a first inning of horrors that put MSU (37-22) down 2-0 early.
"Jacob pitched like a freshman in his first SEC Tournament game," Cohen said. "But he is going to be such a great one for us. The credit goes to (pitching coach) Butch Thompson. After the first inning, Butch met him and told he was to tentative with the breaking ball. He told him to attack with the breaking ball and that would get us some swings out of the zone.
By the time MSU had seemingly run out of luck in this SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., they managed to score four runs in the final three innings of play where 17 active players were used.
Here's the sequence of events that had to happen for MSU to defeat LSU while down 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth:
LSU (43-16), who was 36-1 when leading after eight innings this season, turned to its completely fresh closer Nick Goody (1-2). The Tigers reliever had 10 saves and an earned run average at 1.86.
"I don't mean to downplay the SEC Tournament (because) I've always believed it was important, and I've instilled that in our players," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "That's why the loss hurts so bad because they wanted to win. Normally, when we come to Hoover, we win this tournament. It was tough loss for us, but we'll put it behind us in time and get ready for next week."
MSU was 0-14 in SEC play this season when behind after eight innings. The Bulldogs needed two runs on the league's outright champion with the bottom of the batting order due up.
"Our kids competed hard," Cohen said, "We had some situations early where we didn't score runs. But we have the right kids in the dugout. You can get frustrated, but you can't lose focus. They competed their hearts out there this afternoon. I really love these kids. I love everything about them."
MSU's game-tying RBI in the ninth inning came from a pitcher that was 0-for-3 at the plate this season in junior Luis Pollorena.
The game-winning run for the Bulldogs came from freshman infielder Matthew Britton, who was hitting .149 this season, to score catcher Mitch Slauter. Slauter was 0-for-4 before ripping a double over the LSU center fielders' head with one out in the 10th inning.
"With Matthew Britton, you have a freshman hitting below .200, yet you have a tremendous amount of confidence in him," Cohen said. "Every day, he takes good swings. He works so hard at the game. He is an athletic kid and he just out-competes people. Sometimes, it is not about the stroke, as much as it is about competing and finding a way."
Britton said after the game he thought he'd seen LSU second baseman Jacoby Jones catch his soft liner into short right-centerfield but before he realized what was happening the freshman from Cullman, Ala., was being dogpiled on by the entire MSU dugout in celebration.
"He threw me five straight curveballs so I was thinking fastball the whole time," Britton said. "He threw it and I got the bat to it. Right when I saw him dive my stomach kind of dropped, because I thought that he caught it. I just kept running till I saw that the ball got past him. I was pretty happy about that."
The Bulldogs defeated LSU twice in the same conference tournament for the first time. This was the 10th time in an SEC Tournament where MSU has won three times.The Bulldogs have now won 14 of their last 19 games against conference opponents.
After losing outfielder C.T. Bradford, outfielder Brent Brownlee, infielder Daryl Norris, outfielder Demarcus Henderson and pitcher Ben Bracewell all to injuries, MSU have had several reasons to chalk up the 2012 season as an unlucky venture and focus on future rebuilding.
Friday afternoon against a team with eyes on getting to Omaha and winning a national championship, MSU decided to once again ignore logic, reasoning and stay alive for another day in Hoover.
"What is amazing is we have so many players on this team they had no played in an SEC baseball game before this season," Cohen said. "We took these freshmen and beat one of the premier teams in the nation for the second time in a week."
Jonathan Holder (2-0) got the victory on the mound after working a perfect 10th inning in relief. In doing so, Holder, a true freshman right-hander, broke the school-record for consecutive scoreless innings by tossing 26 1'/3 frames without allowing a single run.
For the fifth time in nine days, MSU will match up with No. 11 Kentucky in the semifinals of the tournament. In another quirk of the 10-team format, the Wildcats are undefeated in Hoover this week but a loss Saturday to the Bulldogs will eliminate them in what is now single elimination.
Kentucky will start left-handed pitcher Cory Littrell (8-1, 2.64) with his only loss being Saturday at Dudy Noble Field in the regular season finale. MSU is still undecided as to who will take the baseball.
No. 24 Mississippi State (37-22) 4,
No. 2 LSU 3
W - Jonathan Holder (2-0) IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, K in 15 pitches
L - Nick Goody (1-2) 1.1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 0 BB, K in 29 pitches
MVP: Matthew Britton (game-winning single in the 10th inning)
Turning point: 9th inning - A lead-off double by Wes Rea swung the momentum for good in the home half of the ninth inning. An RBI-single by Frazier brought MSU within a run, and set the stage for Pollorena's first career RBI. In only his fourth at-bat this season, Luis Pollorena drilled a game-tying sacrifice fly to guarantee extra baseball.
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.
4. A Magnificently Strange Work in Progress BOOK REVIEWS