Mississippi State players celebrate their 2012 SEC Tournament championship near the pitching mound of Regions Park in Hoover, Ala., after the 3-0 victory over Vanderbilt University Sunday. Photo by: MSU athletics
May 28, 2012 11:13:53 PM
HOOVER, Ala. - When the Mississippi State University baseball team left for Hoover, Ala., last week the Hall of Champions room had an empty single-standing trophy case in the corner.
After winning five games in six games culminating with a 3-0 victory in Sunday's 2012 Southeastern Conference tournament championship game against Vanderbilt, that trophy case has been filled with the newest hardware supplied by the Bulldogs program.
"A lot of times in life you can make a lot of progress, but a trophy is tangible," Cohen To be able for the kids to touch it and say we're the champions, even if it's just one week of work, is very beneficial to us."
A single-standing trophy case, which was found in the attic of an old campus building this past summer, and according to school officials used to hold the Golden Egg Trophy in the football rivalry game with the University of Mississippi, now has the school's seventh SEC tournament baseball championship trophy sitting in it.
"In tournament play, it's all about who wants it more and who is simply not ready to go home," MSU junior catcher Mitch Slauter said. "I'm sure not many people thought Vanderbilt or us would be playing for that trophy (Sunday) but to me that trophy is about heart and fight."
For the senior leaders on this team, it was a journey that began with two seasons of failure. MSU (39-22) had under .500 overall records where they didn't even qualify for the SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala.,
"This is awesome and what happened (Sunday) is what we've been trying to play for," MSU senior outfielder Brent Brownlee said. "We were unfortunate the last few years but this was great."
12,526 fans, mostly in maroon and white, watched arguably the two hottest teams in the SEC over the last month at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala., and came away witnessing another dominating performance by MSU's pitching depth.
"They gave up no runs to arguably the hottest team in the league and that's how we've won a lot of games this year," MSU junior second baseman Sam Frost said. "We rely on our pitching and defense. Then we just find a way to scratch a few across on offense and it's been working for us all year."
In Sunday's championship game, four MSU pitchers combined to the Commodores (33-26) to six hits and over its final 26 innings, the Bulldogs allowed just one run to cross home plate.
"It's like they carried pitching momentum from one guy to the next throughout the entire tournament," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. "I don't think understand how difficult that is to do in one game, let alone over six games in six days. We not got anything going today and the guys on the mound for them deserve all the credit for that."
While playing six afternoon games in the tournament's new 10-team format, MSU won five games in Hoover for the first time in program history. The Bulldogs won the tournament title for a fourth time in Regions Park but was the first championship celebration for the program since a 4-1 win over the Ole Miss to grab the 2005 championship.
MSU used 11 pitchers in the six-game tournament and allowed a total of 12 runs, including five in their lone loss.
Cohen, who took the job at his alma mater four years ago, became the first person to win the SEC baseball tournament as a player and a coach with the victory Sunday.
"That means you had great teammates a long time ago, great coaching a long time ago and you're surrounded by great players and coaches now," Cohen said. "I'm just along for the ride here but this is a thrill for me."
In the MSU third inning, SEC tournament most valuable Adam Frazier would plate the first run of the game when a wild pitch brought the Bulldogs shortstop across home plate for a 1-0 lead.
For the tournament, Frazier finished 12-for-23 with the 12 hits ranking him fourth all-time in history of the event. Demarcus Henderson and Jonathan Holder joined Frazier on the all-tournament team.
"I am seeing the ball pretty well and some balls found holes this week," Frazier said. "The (BBCOR) bats are better for me, to be honest and for whatever reason have been seeing some good pitchers to hit hard."
Freshman Ross Mitchell (2-0) earned the win with a career-best five innings of relief work. In four appearances, Mitchell tossed 9 1/3 innings of scoreless relief by mixing up his five-pitch formula to confuse hitters.
"Ross is so hard to hit because of the power sink and there's so much power sink and I'm sure Vanderbilt and MSU fans were watching that today wondering 'why can't they square this guy up?' but there's so much movement," Cohen said. "He's exactly what the doctor ordered today."
In the ninth inning, senior All-American reliever Caleb Reed entered and got the Bulldogs' 68th double play ball of the season, before MSU ace right-hander Chris Stratton recorded the final out for his first career save.
"We talked about it beforehand and (Sunday) was his bullpen day in his throwing session and so I went to Coach Cohen and said 'John why don't we just have Chris throw his bullpen session in front of national television?'," Thompson said.
Pace by four appearances from Reed, Mitchell and Holder, the Bulldogs struck out 41 batters in the tournament. It was the pitching depth that was created by Cohen's first signing class three years ago of Stratton, Graveman and right-hander Ben Bracewell to allow them to win 16 of their last 21 SEC games and a league-high 21 conference games total.
"Coaching is overrated because those kids are the ones that competed their tails off today," Cohen said. "You combine our players' resiliency and our fans creating the best home field advantage being two-and-a-half hours from our campus, was just amazing. We're in an economy where it's tough to fill up the gas tank, tough to get a hotel room and I want to thank our fans today for what they did for our players."
No. 24 Mississippi State (39-22) 3,
Vanderbilt (33-26) 0.
W - Ross Mitchell (2-0) 5 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 3 K in 84 pitches
L - Tyler Beede (1-5) 3.1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 2 K in 67 pitches
S - Chris Stratton (1) 1/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 K in 5 pitches
MVP: Mississippi State LHP Ross Mitchell (The redshirt freshman pitched 9 1/3 scoreless innings in four appearances in Hoover)
Turning point: 4th inning - Mitch Slauter started things with a leadoff single. After a lineout and walk to Sam Frost, Daryl Norris reached as a hit batsman to load the bases. A bases-loaded walk to Frazier scored one run, while a sacrifice-fly by Brent Brownlee scored the other.
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