March 16, 2013 11:05:17 PM
Matthew Stevens - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- As he watched the bat tower over left-field lounge at Dudy Noble Field on Friday night, Mississippi State University baseball coach John Cohen realized he didn't make his message clear enough to his pitchers.
Minutes after Cohen went to the mound to remind starting pitcher Jacob Lindgren not to let LSU cleanup hitter Mason Katz beat him with first base open, Lindgren left a changeup over the heart of the plate on a 3-1 count.
Katz didn't miss the opportunity.
"I'm thinking right there, 'Just go ahead and take your walk,' " Katz said of the two-run home run in the sixth inning. "I decided to sit on an off-speed pitch and he fed me a changeup that I got great contact on."
Cohen could pass that mistake off as a great college power hitter making a great swing on a mistake. At that time, MSU still led 4-3.
In the 10th, Cohen found out the message wasn't getting through to his pitchers as LSU (17-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) rallied from a 4-1 deficit for a 6-4 victory thanks to the power surge of the SEC's leader in home runs and slugging percentage.
In the last inning, Cohen opted not to go out to double check the scouting report with sophomore right-hander Will Cox and replacement catcher Nick Ammirati.
"That's my fault," Cohen said after the loss. "I should've made a trip there. There's no doubt about that. I guess the reason I didn't was I made on earlier in the game in the same exact situation and that didn't help. I'm going to wear that one because I needed to take a trip there with a new pitcher and catcher in the ball game."
The whole scenario surprised even Katz. The Tigers' best power hitting option didn't think he would get a chance to make contact in either at-bat. Instead, MSU pitchers served up two pitches over the middle of the plate that Katz easily deposited over the left-field wall.
Katz, who has homered six times in the past four games, had his second multi-home run game in the six days in the SEC opener for both teams.
"On the first one, there's an open base, two outs, and a 3-1 count and I'm thinking to myself he probably doesn't want to have this be anywhere near the plate," Katz said.
A walk is something the MSU coaching staff would've happily taken in that sixth if given the choice.
"We had no problem with him walking there (in the sixth) but we serve him a belt-high breaking ball that left the ballpark," Cohen said.
Cox (2-1), who had only one other appearance in a SEC game, fed a player who has eight of LSU's 15 home runs this season a fastball that traveled further than his first one.
"I had all of his pitches timed in the on-deck circle and he gave me a fastball I could handle and I lifted it pretty easily," Katz said. "The first one I had doubts, but the second one I knew was long gone."
Cox, who saw his ERA climb from 1.02 to 1.93, was taken out of the rotation after getting starts in the first three four-game series weekends of the season.
With the absence of MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson on Friday night due to the death of his father-in-law, Cohen assumed the responsibility of the pitching staff and left the stadium emotionally stewing over two pitches.
"We let Katz beat us and that was not in our game plan," Cohen said."We served up their best hitter two great opportunities for him to leave the ballpark and to his credit, he did it. Hopefully we'll execute a little bit better on the mound and defensively as well."
Before Friday night, MSU pitching had allowed three home runs in 181 innings. The breakdown that led to Katz's two home runs was something Cohen said he would address with his team before they left the ballpark.
"It's our job to make them aware of things that are good in this game and not so good so we'll do that," Cohen said. "We'll review and hopefully they're excited about getting out there and competing tomorrow."
In the early innings, it was No. 13 MSU (18-3, 0-1) that enjoyed the momentum after junior outfielder Hunter Renfroe hit a two-run home run in the first inning to give the Bulldogs an early lead. Before the loss, MSU was 14-0 this season when it scored first.
"I thought we made good swings and he hung a slider on me in the home run and I hit it really hard," Renfroe said.
LSU would get its revenge on Renfroe in the eighth when senior hard-throwing right-hander Joey Bourgeois (2-0) retired the junior outfielder fooled on a breaking ball after seeing him foul off several 90-plus mph fastballs.
The top six batters in the MSU lineup, who accounted for all 10 hits, attacked strikes early in the count against sophomore pitcher Aaron Nola. It was the same game plan that resulted in striking Nola for five earned runs last year in Baton Rouge, La., in his SEC debut.
C.T. Bradford quickly got out of his 1-for-22 slump by getting on base in his first three plate appearances that included a pair of singles. Bradford scored two runs and as part of a 1-2-3 combination at the top with Adam Frazier and Renfroe that went 5-for-11 with four runs and three RBIs.
"I've had a good support staff around me but it was good to finally start to get hits again after these last six and seven days," Bradford said.