May 24, 2013 10:35:41 AM
HOOVER, Ala. - Mississippi State University is starting to make this formula look repetitive at the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament.
Step one is get clutch hits with runners in motion followed by handing the game over to the bullpen and finally watching Jonathan Holder shut the door.
In its last six SEC tournament games at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, the Bulldogs bullpen is 6-0 with three saves and has tossed a remarkable 43 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. The victory marked the fourth straight this season over A&M (32-26) after the Bulldogs swept the regular season series in College Station, Texas on April 12-14.
"Think about it, we already have a 17-inning game this year and I really think we're in a much better spot to win this tournament than where we stood last year at this point," MSU sophomore pitcher Ross Mitchell said.
The 16th-ranked Bulldogs (43-16) advanced to the semifinals of the conference tournament with a 6-4 victory over Texas A&M University by using all the elements that Cohen and the MSU staff have coveted in recruiting for the last three seasons. MSU made it a habit to pressure the Aggies defense into two errors and executed a pair of hit-and-run scenarios that led to runs.
"All the elements were there for us to do a little more hit and run," MSU coach John Cohen said. "Our kids responded and you know what, you can put all those plays in but your kids have to execute them."
MSU shortstop Adam Frazier, who was the 2012 SEC tournament most valuable player, completed his first four-hit game of the season while scoring a pair of runs from the leadoff spot in the order. The junior led an effective attack on A&M starting pitcher Rafael Pineda (5-5) for the second time this season after the Bulldogs knocked him out in the second inning of a 9-3 win on April 13 in College Station, Texas.
"I feel like he wasn't adjusting to the fact we were seeing his change-up really well," Frazier said. "He made mistakes tonight and when we were aggressive, we took advantage of those balls up in the zone."
Frazier, who is a projected Top 10 round selection in next mont's MLB draft, currently leads all players in the tournament with nine hits in three games.
"This is the Adam Frazier in tournament play that you expect," Cohen said. "It's amazing he came through in a day where C.T. Bradford physically couldn't play."
Bradford, who is hitting .300 this season and had started the previous 57 consecutive games before Thursday's win over the University of South Carolina, was held out with a severe quad injury.
Two of the three runs plated by MSU in the fifth inning to give them a commanding 5-2 lead were unearned after a routine ground ball went right through the legs of A&M first baseman Cole Lankford. Derrick Armstrong, one of MSU's fastest runners on the roster, manufactured the insurance run in the eighth inning by stealing second base and taking third in the same play when the ball was thrown into short center field.
"Pressure, pressure, pressure is his thing because he gets on with a bunt and when we run him in that sequence he beats the ball to (second base)," Cohen said. "You can't teach that kind of speed and athletic ability. You can mold it but it has to be there before he ever gets on our campus."
With the game tied 2-2 in the fourth inning, MSU utilized what has become its normal in-count pitching change from senior co-captain Kendall Graveman to junior right hander Ben Bracewell. The bullpen trio of Bracewell, Mitchell and sophomore Jonathan Holder proceeded to halt any offensive momentum for Texas A&M.
Mitchell (11-0) effectively used his soft tossing, left-handed repertoire to match Chris Stratton's win total last season for most single-season wins for a MSU pitcher under Cohen and MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson. The only base runner the sophomore southpaw allowed in 3 1/3 innings was a one-out walk in the 7th inning that was mixed in with five outs where the ball didn't leave the infield.
Mitchell, who has been used twice in three days out of the bullpen, and his 26 teammates on the active roster will get an off day while games are being played today in Hoover, Ala.
"We were at the mall today before the game and I think there's a open ping pong tournament (Friday) so I think I'm going to be in that," Mitchell said with a smile. "I know how we go about qualifying for that thing but we got some good ping pong players on this team right now."
One of the few outs against Mitchell that reached the outfield resulted in a eye popping double play in the 7th inning starting with MSU junior outfielder Hunter Renfroe nabbing a line drive in center field. The junior, who is a projected first round draft pick, was able to showcase his highly impressive arm by doubling off A&M pinch runner Brandon Wood at first base. In what was easily his most impressive throw of the season, Renfroe executed his sixth outfield assist of the season with his arm strength that included being recorded at 98 miles per hour out of high school.
"I don't know if anybody else in college baseball could make that throw," Cohen said. "That's one of those moments where when you talk to scouts and they ask you about Hunter Renfroe, you say there's a point once in a while where he does something and our dugout is silent thinking 'wow'. He may have thrown that ball 105 miles per hour from center field."
With MSU not having to play today in the tournament, Cohen will go back from baseball coach to normal dad with the opportunity to be in attendance for the graduation of his oldest daughter, Jordan Avery, from Starkville High School today.
"I think the most significant thing about this victory is I get to watch my daughter graduate from high school (Friday) which was a point of concern in the Cohen household," Cohen said with a smile."
The national analyst chatter Thursday has turned from MSU being a borderline host to possibly being a national seed if they continue this incredible stretch in Hoover, Ala. The Bulldogs continue to have a ratings percentage index of 10th but SEC tournament victories count as league victories to the NCAA selection committee. The hosting sites will be announced Sunday night with the national seeds and the rest of the NCAA bracket being revealed Monday on ESPNU.
MSU will return to the field Saturday for the single elimination semifinal round game against the winner between A&M and Vanderbilt University in today's elimination contest. Cohen confirmed sophomore left hander Jacob Lindgren (4-2, 3.91) will get the pitching start.
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.
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