Mississippi State freshman Jonathan Holder reacts after the final out of the Bulldogs 2-1 victory over Kentucky in the 2012 Southeastern Conference tournament semifinal in Hoover, Ala. Photo by: MSU athletics
May 26, 2012 5:54:33 PM
HOOVER, Ala. - For the first time in seven years, Mississippi State University will play for the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament championship Sunday.
The Bulldogs knocked off No. 11 Kentucky for the fourth time in five matchups this season with a 2-1 victory Saturday afternoon in the semifinal round at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala.
"The way our kids have handled this, our attitude and the way they go about their business is almost inspirational to our coaching staff," MSU coach John Cohen said. "If you want to talk about our team being hot fine but I think that means when we show up at the ballpark then we think we're going to win every game. "The goal is simple - find a way to a win a ballgame."
MSU played the bunting game to perfection with five sacrifice bunts and that turned into the run-scoring opportunities in the second and third innings.
MSU (38-22) got the leadoff batter on base six of nine times Friday against Kentucky and led to two of the Bulldogs bigger mashers (first baseman Wes Rea and designated hitter Trey Porter) in the middle of the order finding success with RBI-singles to score Adam Frazier and DeMarcus for the visitors' two runs in the afternoon.
Porter was 1-for-15 before that game-winning single in the third inning that produced the junior's fourth RBI in this month.
"The coaches have just wanted me to go up there and not try to do too much," Porter said. "I haven't been pressing too much but just concentrating on putting good swings on pitches. Eventually those turn into hits."
MSU left-handed pitcher Nick Routt (3-5) worked 3.1 innings of three-hit shutout relief to keep Kenutcky's high-powered offense quiet. In the fifth inning with a one-run lead and two Wildcats on base, Routt got Kentucky cleanup hitter A.J. Reed to buckle on a backdoor curveball on a 3-2 count for a strikeout looking to end the threat.
"One of things (MSU pitching coach) Butch Thompson and I are trying to preach is trust your instincts and run your own deal and that's one of the things that's so key with Nick," Cohen said. "That 3-2 curveball was such a huge pitch there because I thought he threw that sucker right down the middle and left no doubt. He was not walking that guy. Man, he threw that with so much confidence and that was fun to watch."
Another big moment for Routt, who didn't allow more than three earned runs in a start during May last year, was in a 2-1 count when Cohen's mound visit demanded that Kentucky third baseman Thomas McCarthy not getting any pitch to hit. Routt immediately went to what Baseball America rated two years ago as the best changeup in the entire SEC.
"It was just about getting back to the confident level that I used to have with it and I like throwing (the changeup) when it's working because as we all know fastball-changeup is a devastating combo," Routt said. "It's a circle change and a little bit different than I'd thrown before."
Saturday's victory also allowed MSU to match last season's win total with victory No. 38. The Bulldogs also knocked off the Wildcats for a fourth time this season, which is a first in program history.
The 24th-ranked Bulldogs won for the fourth time in five tries in Hoover and will face either Vanderbilt University (32-25) or the University of Florida (42-17) in Sunday's title game. Game time is set for 2:30 p.m and will be televised nationally by ESPN2 and will also be available on-line through ESPN3.COM.
The NCAA will announce its regional host sites prior to Sunday's championship game. While the Bulldogs are not expected to host, they should be highly-seeded when the full 64-team regional tournament field is announced at 11 a.m. Monday on ESPNU.
No. 24 Mississippi State (38-22) 2,
No. 11 Kentucky (43-16) 1.
W - Nick Routt (3-5) 3.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K in 43 pitches
L - Corey Littrell (8-2) 6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 K in 87 pitches
S - Jonathan Holder (9) IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 K in 12 pitches
MVP: Mississippi State LHP Nick Routt - first victory since April 24 for the fourth-year junior southpaw.
Turning point: 5th inning - With Kentucky having runners on first and second with two outs and the Bulldogs up 2-1, MSU junior left-hander Nick Routt struck out Wildcats designated hitter A.J. Reed (hitting .315 with 42 RBIs this season) with a backdoor curveball on a 3-2 count to end the frame.
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 Stone's Throw: Waving flags COLUMNS