May 25, 2013 11:02:01 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
HOOVER, Ala. -- Mississippi State University leaves the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament with the same concern they had entering the event five days ago: starting pitching.
MSU sophomore left hander Jacob Lindgren, the Bulldogs Friday night starter to begin SEC play in March, was incredibly inconsistent once again only able to record the first three outs of the game before being tagged for six runs on just two hits in a 39-pitch effort Saturday. No. 1 Vanderbilt University put up seven runs in the second frame and five runs in the fifth for a dominating 16-8 victory over the No. 16 Bulldogs in the SEC tournament semifinals.
"The seven runs for them in that second inning is the story of this game because all the elements were there for a big inning," MSU coach John Cohen said. "I just feel it wasn't a great, great start by Jacob. That happens sometimes."
Barring a matchup in the NCAA postseason, Vanderbilt will have swept MSU in all four games played this season by a combined 32-14. The Commodores will face No. 2 Louisiana State University today for the SEC title at 3:30 p.m., in the first matchup between the two programs that clearly set themselves apart from the league pack this season.
In two stats against Vanderbilt this season, Lindgren (4-3) has given up 11 runs in just 1 2/3 innings and taken the loss in both contests. In a 8-3 loss in Nashville on April 28, Lindgren failed to get out of the first inning and Corbin stated his shock at being able to dominate a pitcher that was drafted in the 12th round of the draft two years ago.
"The fact we did the job we did on Lindgren was pretty good because you just don't do that twice to a kid like that," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. "He's been successful for them and has a good arm. It's tough to score at all on those guys at Mississippi State so I'm pleased with the offensive attack."
The 16 runs given up were the most by MSU since they lost 17-1 at Dudy Noble Field against LSU. It's only the second time in two years the Bulldogs have allowed a double digit run total.
"Give Vanderbilt credit," MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson said. "That team swept us during the regular season.
"We had another chance to figure them out and couldn't do anything with it. We had a tough time putting outs together."
Vanderbilt (51-8) saw its lead dwindle to 8-4 before relying on the veteran leadership to tack on five more runs on MSU sophomore left hander Ross Mitchell, the nation's leader in ERA, to to take a commanding 13-4 lead after four and a half innings.
"Vanderbilt has been on a roll this year offensively against us and these things are cyclical it just seems like every time we play them, nothing goes out way," Cohen said.
Saturday's semifinal victory tied a season-high for run and hits for Vanderbilt club that already broke the SEC record for regular season league wins (26) and have a excellent case to be the No. 1 overall seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
Today will also mark Vanderbilt's third straight appearance in the SEC title game but have failed to win the previous two times.
"My brother Corey (who played professional in the Milwaukee Brewers organization) threw a jab at me this morning saying that we're 0 and two in SEC title games," Vanderbilt junior second baseman Tony Kemp said. "So, to my brother, thank you for that motivation today."
The Commodores middle of the lineup duo of Connor Harrell and Conrad Gregor combined for three hits each and drove in five runs. Kemp recorded two hits and three RBIs to increase his conference-leading batting average to .410. After his single in the third inning, the large Vanderbilt fan contingent began a chant of 'M-V-P' for the preseason All-American selection.
Hunter Renfroe, MSU's best bet for SEC most valuable player consideration, ended the day 3 for 5 with 2 RBI and will leave the SEC tournament for likely the final time with a .333 batting average (7 for 27) and five runs driven in. Renfroe, who is projected to be taken in the first round of next month's MLB draft, had come into Hoover struggling at the plate with runners in scoring position.
"I saw the ball well all weekend to be honest but couldn't put everything together," Renfroe said. "My approach at the plate was good. Did I need this, a three hit day, yeah - absolutely I did."
MSU (43-17) will now wait until tonight when ESPN and the NCAA announce the 16 regional host sites for the upcoming NCAA tournament. With a ratings percentage index of 10 and 21 victories this season against the RPI Top 50 schools, MSU is expected to be named as a host site. Before he left the post-game news conference table, Cohen made it specifically clear he expected to have more games at Dudy Noble Field as well.
"You have to look at big picture and you lost by a lot of runs today so that doesn't make you feel good but if we had a chance to go out and play (Sunday) I'd have a lot of confidence in this group in elimination games," Cohen said. "Would we love to play at home in a regional next week, absolutely. That's out of our hands."
MSU has not hosted an NCAA regional since 2003 and it's been 13 years since the Bulldogs program managed to advance out of a regional in Starkville.