June 3, 2014 10:37:42 AM
LAFAYETTE, La. -- Mississippi State baseball coach John Cohen and his coaches preach to their players to keep the game in front of them.
The Bulldogs' inability to do that Monday night played a big role in the end of their season.
MSU reliever Jacob Lindgren wild pitched two runs home in the third inning that helped No. 1 and top-seeded Louisiana-Lafayette build a 4-0 lead en route to a 5-3 victory against No. 17 and second-seeded Mississippi State in the championship game of the NCAA tournament Lafayette Regional.
ULL (57-8), which beat MSU 14-8 on Sunday to force the winner-take-all title game, advances to play host to Ole Miss, which eliminated Washington on Monday, in the super regionals. It will be the Ragin' Cajuns' first time to play host to a super regional, and the program's third appearance overall (first since 2000).
MSU ends its season 39-24.
MSU starting pitcher Lucas Laster (0-1) issued a one-out walk and allowed a run-scoring single in the third. Two more walks loaded the bases before the Bulldogs went to Lindgren. Laster gave up three runs on three hits with three walks in 2 2/3 innings.
Lindgren then wild pitched two runs home to help the Ragin' Cajuns extend their lead to 3-0.
"We have to play clean games to win championships," Cohen said. "That is how we are built. Baseball is a game of inches and it certainly was there in the third inning."
Lindgren (18) and junior right-hander Trevor Fitts (13) led the Southeastern Conference in wild pitches. The Bulldogs also relied on freshman catcher Gavin Collins for most of the season. Collins, who made 45 starts, finished third on the team in batting average (.304) but had 10 of the team's 14 passed balls.
"His stuff is so good that two things happen," Cohen said. "It's hard for our catchers to catch it and it's hard for umpires, too. The power stuff goes in two different directions, so we had trouble keeping it in front of us tonight."
Lindgren, who likely will be taken early in the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft, hadn't pitched in MSU's first three games of the regional. When he entered the game in the third, Lindgren didn't have his normal command of any pitch. As a result, Cohen said ULL, which he said has "the most dangerous offense in the country," barely had to swing the bat to take a commanding lead.
"I had to make big adjustments to even stay in the game," Lindgren said. "The adjustments started working, but I just felt like we came up short in everything tonight."
MSU cut ULL's lead to one run in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs and two on, senior outfielder C.T. Bradford singled to left-center field to score Matthew Britton. In the next at bat, Brett Pirtle's RBI single through the right side of the infield cut the Ragin' Cajuns advantage to 4-3.
With two on and two out in eighth, Britton struck out against right-hander Matt Plitt in the Bulldogs' last chance to salvage a season-saving victory.
"We battled back," Bradford said. "I wouldn't want to be out there with any other group of guys. It's been that way through 60 games. We have had our ups and downs. We just kept battling. That is why I liked this team so much."
ULL won four-straight games to fight back from the losers' bracket. The 57 wins moves ULL within three of the NCAA record for wins in a season since the 56-game regular season was implemented in 1992. Florida State holds the record with 60 wins in 2002.
Jace Conrad, from played baseball four blocks away from M.L. Tigue Moore Field at Lafayette High School, took home the tournament's most outstanding player after another multi-hit game in which he scored a pair and drove in a run.
"We tried to jump on them early and hoped it would just play to our benefit, and it did," Conrad said. "We give credit to our pitchers. We only put up five runs for them today compared to the 14 yesterday. They did a great job."
ULL closer Ryan Wilson limited MSU to three runs on four hits in 6 2/3 innings to earn his sixth win. Wilson pitched out of trouble and then helped ULL hold the lead after the third.
"I don't care where he's (Wilson) at, even if it's at 35 percent, he's going to throw down with all 35," ULL coach Tony Robichaux said, "so we knew that we had a chance because we knew we weren't going to have somebody that was going to pitch soft or pitch scared. He's never done that."
The victory marked the first time since the reinstitution of the four-team format that MSU has lost a regional after winning the first two games of the tournament.
"We have some senior guys who really acted like seniors, and that's important," Cohen said. "You hate to see them go out that way, but they've done a lot. Our goal was to win a postseason tournament four years in a row."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.