March 17, 2014 10:50:08 AM
STARKVILLE -- Following a month of tinkering and experiments, John Cohen went back to old reliable in the Mississippi State baseball team's first Southeastern Conference series.
After losing the series opener to Georgia on Friday, MSU's sixth-year coach decided the time for testing theories had passed and that it was time to turn to the players who led MSU to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., last season.
"We experimented a lot, but what it really comes down to is we got to put the ball in the hands of the guys that got us to Omaha a year ago," Cohen said Saturday after No. 24 MSU beat Georgia 6-1 and 4-1 at Foley Field to improve to 15-8 and 2-1 in the SEC. "That's what this whole day was about."
Cohen turned to junior left-handed pitcher Ross Mitchell to get No. 24 MSU back on track. Mitchell kept his winning ways alive with a 129-pitch complete-game victory to improve to 19-1 in his career. The complete game was the first by a MSU hurler since Kendall Graveman threw one at Texas A&M on April 13, 2013. Mitchell's success was reminiscent of the numerous times he came out of the bullpen last season as part of the nation's best bullpen. The soft-tossing left-hander, who is coming off offseason hip surgery, has held opponents to a lifetime average below .200 in his two seasons. The victory also helped Mitchell improve to 5-0 with a 1.62 ERA in the SEC.
"The cool thing is you got a lot of young arms watching this and thinking, 'Oh yeah, that's how they got on a run,' " Cohen said. "That's how they got close to a national championship. It's fun to watch when those guys control the game in that manner."
Cohen hinted Mitchell could start at 6:30 p.m. Friday night when MSU plays host to No. 7 Vanderbilt (17-3, 2-1) in Game 1 of the three-game weekend series at Dudy Noble Field in Starkville.
"We thought it was such a luxury to have him in the bullpen, and that's why we waited to pull the trigger on him as a starter for so long, but (MSU pitching coach) Butch Thompson has been pushing for that move for a while," Cohen said. "That is what the non-conference portion of the schedule was supposed to figure out, whether we could afford such a luxury. Ross has a chance to have 10 starts in the SEC, so it's not too late."
Cohen handed the bulk of the relief responsibilities in the series finale to left-hander Jacob Lindgren and All-America closer Jonathan Holder. Holder, who had been bothered by a swelling problem with the middle finger on his throwing hand, recorded a strikeout after coming in on a 2-2 count to escape a jam in the eighth inning. He then worked the ninth for his second save.
With four strikeouts in three shutout innings, Lindgren increased his strikeout total to 26 in 13 2/3 innings. The converted starter dropped his ERA from 1.69 to 1.32 in the outing.
Senior Alex Detz had a hit in all three games in the series. He arrived in Athens, Ga., barely hitting over .200, but he found success hitting in the No. 2 spot in the order. In the 4-1 victory, Detz had a run-scoring single. He has reached base safely in 10 consecutive SEC games. MSU stretched the lead to 3-0 in the fourth on a two-run double by outfielder C.T. Bradford. Bradford, a senior who has been a part of three consecutive trips to the NCAA, pinch hit for the first time of the season in Game 2, clearing the bases with a two-run double. With the 2-for-3 performance, Bradford improved to 19-for-47 (.404) against right-handed pitching.
"We just had a much better day at the plate," Cohen said. "We played with more confidence and attacked more. When you have the pitchers on the mound we had today, you just want to get some type of lead. Scoring runs early proved really big for this ball club."
MSU doesn't play a midweek game this weekend. Comcast Sports Southeast will broadcast Game 1 of the Vanderbilt series. The teams will meet at 6:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU) and at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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