February 23, 2014 4:48:59 PM
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Holy Cross sophomore SS Nick Lovullo: 3-for-5 with 2 runs and 2 RBIs and left weekend hitting .353 against MSU pitching.
STARKVILLE -- Jake Vickerson said immediately after the final out was recorded Sunday it's not time to press the panic button. He might just be too late with that request.
Mississippi State, which came into this weekend ranked No. 7 in the latest Baseball America poll, lost its second straight game to Holy Cross - a small private school in the Patriot League that prohibits athletic scholarships for its programs.
The Bulldogs (4-4) never led in their 6-1 defeat Sunday and were dominated by junior right-hander Donny Murphy, a junior coming off labrum surgery that kept him out of play in the Cape Cod League this summer. Nobody in the MSU lineup had multiple hits and only Vickerson in the leadoff spot managed to get on base repeatedly as the transfer from Shelton State had a single and a walk.
"I just don't think it's time to freak out at all and I'm not going to say this is a problem," Vickerson said. "We don't need to go into the clubhouse and feel sorry for ourselves because they beat us fair and square. We have to go back to the drawing board."
Murray finished his seven-inning outing by allowing just six hits and one run in 96 pitches. Murray, a pitch-to-contact style hurler, was 7-3 with a 4.33 ERA last season while holding opposing batters to a team-lowest and .264 batting average, which ranked seventh in the Patriot League.
Holy Cross, who opened its 2014 season this weekend in Starkville, completed a split with the defending national runner-up from the College World Series. The Crusaders program, which only was able to practice outdoors for short segments, lost 12 seniors and a drafted junior off its squad claimed the first Patriot League regular season title in program history.
"It's below zero with the wind chill when we're outside practicing on a plowed football field turf surface with snow banks as high as the eye can see," Holy Cross coach Greg DiCenzo said. "I can't say I'm surprised because we have some really good baseball players in our dugout."
With all of those hurdles to overcome against the heavily favorite Southeastern Conference program, Holy Cross (2-2) looked more fundamentally sound defensively and at the plate. The Crusaders had less errors (7 to 2) and left less runners on base (37 to 34) in the four games at Dudy Noble Field.
"We think we should've won this series," DiCenzo said. "We played better than them. We think we had enough talent and leadership to come in here and win this series but I'll take two back home."
MSU coach John Cohen tried to dismiss this slow start after the 6-1 loss Sunday by saying the Bulldogs are just in their bad segment of the 2014 season right now. MSU has never lost four games before March under John Cohen until this season.
"We're not able to put anything together right now and I think we'll have the chance to do that at some point but it's just not happening right now," Cohen said. "I think we're just trying too hard on offense and defensively right now."
MSU has made a defensive error in each of the last five games of the season and are 2-3 in that stretch of contests with reoccurring mishaps. Cohen said Sunday his staff will continue to mix and match the lineups and based off the performances in the first two weekends, MSU have not have any other strategic option.
"We will continue to mix guys in and out but the issue right now is when guys are getting their opportunities then they're sort of turning it into a tryout and using more effort than needed," Cohen said. "You could just play nine every day and say 'that's it' but you can't block out the rest of your club when some of them deserve opportunities as well."
Holy Cross sophomore Nick Lovullo ended Sunday 3-for-5 in the leadoff spot with two runs and two RBIs as he crushed MSU pitching for a .353 clip.
The right side of the MSU infield has five of the team's nine errors this season as shortstop and third base starters continue to be a mystery. MSU pitchers have thrown 10 wild pitches that have not been blocked by the Bulldogs revolving door at the catcher position and the offense has left an average of 9.5 base runners on in games this season.
"It's not from a lack of effort from our kids at all," Cohen said. "We learned a lot about our left side defense and we come out this weekend with a real grasp at our catching situation."
The last time Holy Cross defeated a SEC opponent was Feb. 25, 2012 when they beat No. 4 Texas A&M 7-3 in College Station, Texas but lost the other two games of the three-game set. The Crusaders had only three starters that experienced that win over the Aggies on the field this weekend in Starkville two years later.
"Our guys can come into a place like this and play at a high level proves we will won't get shellshocked in any environment," DiCenzo said. "Our players except to show up at the park and compete to win. There's no other option on the table for us and I think it showed this weekend."
In the home dugout, a resolved Cohen continues to stress passionate MSU fans must stay patient as the Bulldogs struggle to find consistency in any form of the game through eight contests.
"You play 56 ball games for a reason and if you're mentally weak you're going to let a 5-year-old say 'you went 0-for-4' get you," Cohen said. "I'll wear all of it for our club. When we lose, it's my fault and when we win, it's because our players played great. That's how it works in our industry."
The Bulldogs will practice Monday, normally reserved for a day off for the players, before taking on Mount St. Mary's for two mid-week games at Dudy Noble Field starting Tuesday.
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.
1. Photo essay: 'Wizard of Pawz' COMMUNITY
4. West Point preps for third annual Art Walk ENTERTAINMENT
5. Lee's thriller topic of Wednesday's Table Talk ENTERTAINMENT