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Florida knocks MSU out of SEC tournament

 

Matthew Stevens

 

HOOVER, Ala. -- Less than 24 hours after a crushing 12-inning loss, the No. 18 and fifth-seeded Mississippi State baseball team couldn't regroup in an elimination game against one of the nation's top teams.  

 

No. 7 and top-seeded Florida defeated MSU 5-1 on Friday in the Southeastern Conference tournament at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. The loss sent MSU (37-22) home short of the semifinals of the SEC tournament for the first time since 2011. The Bulldogs will wait until 11 a.m. Monday to learn their destination for the NCAA tournament fate. ESPNU will televise the tournament selection show.  

 

After winning 21 games against SEC competition, MSU is looking forward to facing other teams in the next step of the postseason. 

 

"One of the neat things is, at least in the beginning, we don't have to play any SEC opponents," MSU coach John Cohen said. "I think that's why our league has had so much success in the postseason." 

 

While MSU had thrived offensively in the first three games of the SEC tournament, Florida's left-right combination of Danny Young and Justin Shafer, held MSU, which had scored 24 runs in its first three games in the event, to just six hits. C.T. Bradford and Cody Walker (doubles) had the only extra-base hits for the Bulldogs, who didn't score until the eighth inning on a sacrifice fly by Brett Pirtle. 

 

"We had a lot of good at-bats today and a lot of hard line drives, but they made some really good defensive plays and nothing fell for us," said Pirtle, MSU's senior second baseman. 

 

Pirtle went 0-for-2 and had his consecutive games streak of getting on base end at 39 (63 against SEC teams). 

 

Professional scouts and personnel had a chance to watch MSU's Opening Day starter Brandon Woodruff (1-3) before he was lifted with one out in the fourth. Woodruff, who is still projected to be a top-10 round draft pick, allowed five hits and three runs (two earned). He walked two. MSU associate head coach/pitching coach Butch Thompson then turned the game into a bullpen day after Ben Bracewell worked 2 2/3 innings. Vance Tatum, Dakota Hudson, and Austin Sexton worked an inning apiece to close the game. 

 

"It is really important to get those guys opportunities because this is a different stage and we think they'll be really good pitchers," Cohen said. "As we all know, you can't do something till you've done it before." 

 

The middle of Florida's order (Harrison Bader, Taylor Gushue, and Braden Mattson) had six of the Gators' 10 hits, but it was errors by Seth Heck and Walker that cost MSU early. Florida built a 2-0 lead in the second after two hits and a walk loaded the bases. An infield error allowed two runs to score. The Gators extended the lead on a single by Peter Alonso in the fourth and on a single by Josh Tobias in the sixth. 

 

Shafer (1-0), who has been used mostly as a reliever this season, allowed two hits and struck out three in a 41-pitch outing. His effort was crucial to help Florida save its pitching depth for its game Saturday against Kentucky. 

 

"He threw strikes and he faced a lot of left-handed hitters in a season-long outing for him," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "You are trying to get ready for NCAA Regionals. He showed why he'll be a top option for us out of the bullpen." 

 

Meanwhile, MSU will try to bounce back from an effort in which just four players had hits. Bradford paced the Bulldogs by going 3-for-4 to raise bis batting average to .311. Heck, Walker, and Matthew Britton, who scored the only run, also had hits. 

 

"Hopefully we can rekindle some of that magic from last season (a run to the College World Series national championship finals)," Cohen said. "We have the third most league wins of any team in the league over the last four years, so our kids are winning some games against elite competition." 

 

Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.

 

 

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