FILE - Mississippi State OF Demarcus Henderson watches Samford celebrate after a win in 2012 Tallahassee Regional. Samford defeated MSU twice to eliminate them from the regional with a 40-24 record. Photo by: Associated Press
June 3, 2012 3:17:31 PM
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Not many people saw this end unfolding in such a way.
Mississippi State University, the 2012 Southeastern Conference tournament champions, has been eliminated with two losses to a Samford University program in its first appearance in NCAA play.
"We played really well six weekends in a row and one of those weekends was for an entire week," MSU head coach John Cohen said. "It just simply didn't fall in our favor today and that happens in this game."
Samford advanced to play host and No. 3 overall seed Florida State in the first of possibly two Tallahassee Regional final games Sunday evening. If Samford defeats FSU Sunday evening, then the two will meet again Monday at 6 p.m. to in the final game of the regional.
"What a gutsy effort by a group of kids that haven't been here before," Samford coach Casey Dunn said. "To come in this environment, in regional play, be in an elimination game and to hold their composure is really impressive."
The MSU (40-24) season came to a crashing holt with a 3-2 defeat where State led the game until Samford came back with a pair of runs in the seventh frame off MSU closer Jonathan Holder.
Holder's school-record streak of 27 1/3 scoreless innings ended when an RBI-double by Samford power hitter Brandon Miller tied the score. The next batter C.K. Irby gave Samford (41-22) its first lead of the afternoon on a ground ball to MSU third baseman Sam Frost.
Frost, who was replacing Daryl Norris at third base the last two games, had struggled with the throw from across the diamond throughout the season but had been bailed out by the glove on several occasions by the glove of MSU first baseman Wes Rea. However, Frost's throw skipped under the legs of Rea allowing Samford to take the momentum and the advantage on the scoreboard.
"Lately (the throw) just wasn't working for me I guess," Frost said. "I guess in big games I get a little sped up. I had time to make that throw and I don't know why I felt like I had to rush it."
Holder (2-1), who was the fifth of six pitches MSU used Sunday, gave up his first hit in eight appearances during Samford's two-run seventh frame to Phillip Ervin on an 0-2 pitch.
"That was definitely a mistake and give him credit - he just jumped all over it and put the barrel where he wanted it," Holder said. "He did what good hitters do."
It's the first time in last five NCAA postseason appearances that MSU will not reach the regional final.
"(Samford) is a better club than people see them as," MSU catcher Mitch Slauter said. "I still think if we played them in a weekend series we are going to win that."
Samford senior starting pitcher Kyle Putkonen pitched his fourth quality start of the season and first back-to-back quality start of the 2012 campaign. After a complete game victory in the Southern Conference tournament last week, the senior from Marietta, Ga., went 6 1/3 innings allowing just two earned runs while striking out five.
"It lets us know that regardless of what happens the next game or the next two games, these guys were truly ready," Dunn said. "They've proven they are worthy of this experience."
The Samford bullpen of Joseph Burns and C.K. Irby allowed just one hit in the last 2 2/3 innings of the contest. Burns was coming off an outing less than 12 hours after giving up a grand slam to Florida State power hitter James Ramsey in a 8-1 loss to the Seminoles Saturday night.
"I'm glad I got another chance and got the call today," Burns said. "The guy (last night) got a good hit and hit it over the surface over there. I'm kind of used to it."
Sunday's loss marked just the second time MSU has lost when leading after six innings. The only other time a comeback loss of that nature occurred to MSU was April 13 at South Carolina when the seventh-ranked Gamecocks won 7-6 in the opener of that SEC series.
"You can't put the kind of pressure that we put on this pitching staff and we've been doing it all year long because we're not executing things offensively," Cohen said. "That's my responsibility, my fault and I'll wear all that. We're not a great offensive club."
MSU left 10 runners on base and failed on two separate occasions to get any runs when runners were on second and third with less than two outs. The final inning saw MSU leave that exact situation on the base paths with one out and Demarcus Henderson coming to the plate.
"We had opportunities offensively and just didn't do it," Cohen said. "That's what happened when guys who do not have a lot of Division 1 experience. It's not an excuse, it's just a fact that experienced guys are more successful."
The consistent theme of MSU not converting offensively in critical situations played out again as Henderson struck out swinging on three pitches. Cohen said a squeeze bunt was not the play with the Samford infield drawn in and Henderson having come through in the last two weeks since drawing starts in SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala.
"I know Demarcus Henderson is going to get better, he's too good an athlete no to," Cohen said. "When there's an open base, he'll learn to lay off those buried breaking balls. He's experiencing everything for the first time.
MSU's 2012 season ended with at least 40 wins for just the third time since 2000 as the 14th-ranked Bulldogs will likely have every member of its starting lineup returning next season.
"We're not a very good offensive club right now and when that happens, we'll have a chance to be among the elite programs in this country."
Samford (42-23) 3,
No. 14 Mississippi State (41-23) 2,
W - Joseph Burns (4-1) 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K in 16 pitches
L - Jonathan Holder (2-1) IP, 3 H, 2 R, ER, 0 BB, 2 K in 28 pitches
S - C.K. Irby (10) IP, H, 0 R, BB, K in 21 pitches
MVP: Samford RF Brandon Miller (2-for-3 with 2 runs scored and an RBI)
Turning point: 7th inning - Samford grabbed the lead for good in the seventh inning. After a pair of outs to start the inning, the Bulldogs turned to Jonathan Holder. A true freshman from Gulfport, Holder had not allowed a run in a school-record 27.1 innings of work.
On this day however, Holder was touched for a single by Phillip Ervin and a bad-hop RBI-double by Miller. A throwing error followed allowing Samford to plate an unearned run to grab the lead for good.
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. The beat goes on at 'Unplugged 3' this week ENTERTAINMENT
3. CCT youth: Come on in, meet 'Mississippi Characters' ENTERTAINMENT