"Coach said in our huddle the preparation for the next game starts as soon as we leave here. We're going to do the same thing after this game, just forget about it and come to the park with a new mindset tomorrow."
Easier said that done, of course. While the Diamond Dogs have certainly had to set several other big beatings behind this season none were in a tournament setting where the next came quite literally can be their last. But Coach John Cohen does correctly compare what Mississippi State faces Saturday to how many—even too many—of their regular season weekends played out.
Or that is how the coach is framing things for his team in advance of game-two, which starts at noon eastern time at Perry Field.
"Really, no different than any other SEC weekend," Cohen said. "It's a real challenge for us, but we've been here before where we're down in the last game of the series and came back and played well. I fully expect us to do the same thing here."
Indeed, much of the regular schedule really did season State for win-or-woe intensity. And if the Bulldogs didn't always deliver in those rubber games they did develop tougher hides for such pressures. In fact they can look back at some series where just salvaging a Sunday victory was a bigger win than a single notch on the record book.
It began with their first SEC series when Vanderbilt, one of the four conference clubs still alive in NCAA play as well as another super regional host, whipped the Dogs 10-0 and 4-0 the first two days. Down 6-1 in the third game, State pulled off a still-amazing comeback and won 9-8. They faced a similar situation at Arkansas and rallied to save the Sunday as well, then again at home with Alabama.
But what of taking a thumping? Well, there too this team has experience. Six times they have absorbed bad losses with double-digit runs allowed or close to it. Each time they either rebounded with a win or played the opponent right down to the final pitch.
"We've been able to bounce back from some of our tougher losses," Cohen said. "You know, everybody in our league deals with this type of loss, everybody, because the league is that good. I fully expect our guys to come out tomorrow and be ready and have a better at the plate and on the mound."
Mississippi State assuredly needs better in both regards if they intend to continue this series, and season. Both teams started righthanders Friday; the Florida guy, Hudson Randall, had much the better of things with an 8.0 inning outing and his tenth win of the season. Bulldog rookie Evan Mitchell struggled from the, yes, start with four runs in the opening inning and seven total before being excused.
Mitchell was candid about his problems, blaming inability to get a first strike across early and not locating the differing second pitch any better. Or, not throwing it all after falling behind. Which naturally allowed Florida to swing at the good stuff following and rack up all those early runs. The first issue to address in game-two planning becomes pretty obvious: get ahead on the count and stay there.
The moundsman charged with this is a veteran, junior lefthander Nick Routt (see feature filed Friday morning), 3-3 this season and who has faced Florida a few times before. Perhaps not quite as potent an order as these Gators can be, but still experience counts for something. What Cohen is counting on is Routt's steady improvement over the last half of this season, as well as the do-or-through motivation.
"I think he's excited about pitching tomorrow," said Cohen. "In fact we contemplated starting him today." Which some thought would happen after Routt threw a complete game and 115 pitches against Georgia Tech last Sunday in the Atlanta Regional championship game.
"But we wanted him to have the extra rest," Cohen said. "I'd be shocked if he isn't throwing well tomorrow, his preparation went very well this week." The Bulldog staff is just about intact anyway for a second day as neither long-left reliever and sometime starter Luis Pollorena hasn't pitched since last Friday against Southern Mississippi; nor closer Caleb Reed since the same game. Even Devin Jones, the first reliever today, worked just 2.0 innings and might be able to come back for a right-hand matchup tomorrow. Cohen likes how Jones, who is celebrating being drafted in the 9th round by Baltimore earlier this week, throws right after throwing since it seems to get some adrenalin out of the system.
State also put former starter Chris Stratton on the hill today for the last inning, with 25 pitches and two strikeouts. He did have a couple on bases via an errored grounder and walk but left them there. Stratton also threw an inning in the SEC Tournament, but should State extend the series to a third game he is also a Sunday starting option. As is Pollorena. Or anyone.
But this implies a Saturday success and that is largely in Routt's left hand. Cohen said Routt has the right stuff to match up with Florida's balanced order. "It's kind of the theme of our staff. He can pitch off his fastball but he's got to throw it in the strike zone."
At the same time Bulldog batters can't wait too long to get after announced Florida starter Karsten Whitson, another one of the Gator's talented young pitching guns. Maybe even the best, too, at 8-0 already. Not that Cohen would ask his offense to match Florida firepower inning-by-inning, of course. But State has to make something happen and when it does, cash in completely. And there, Cohen said, the batters have to mimic the pitcher plans.
Which is, control the strike zone.
"That's what separates good teams from great teams, and Florida is a great team. It is your ability to take pitches that are marginal, and they do a very good job of that." Whether Whitson offers much in the margins is anyone's guess but then that can't be planned for. Either way, "Strike one has to be our friend tomorrow," said Cohen.
A tomorrow that carries almost no memory of today, for that matter. Because for all the seasoning received so far in bounce-back situations, this is the one that counts. For everything.
"We have to have a little amnesia, come back out and play the way we have most of the time against Florida. And command the strike zone better both offensively and defensively."
NOTEBOOK: The noon start was dictated by television and the exposure welcome for college baseball. But timing took a toll on the crowd, announced at 2,446 in McKethan Stadium. It also took a toll on atmosphere, said Bulldog senior Jarrod Parks.
"When you come to the park you're expecting 15,000 fans, but we came here and it just seemed like a regular SEC weekend. And we wanted to have a weekend against Florida, they've taken a few from us that we felt we should have had."…
Speaking of ‘should have had', Parks was part of the game's only controversial moment. In the third inning he took a pitch off his left elbow that caromed on into the bat knob. As he jogged to first rubbing the arm, ump Frank Sylvester called him back on a foul-tip. Even after an umpire meeting the call stood, since they could not view TV replay that proved Parks' point. As did the swollen elbow.
An inning later Parks and Sylvester crossed paths near the mound as MSU was warming up and they talked for a while. Parks said he stopped the ump to explain and show more proof, since by then it was only for clarification. As to specific topics? "No comment," was all Parks offered afterwards, though after leaving the press conference he did show a few reporters the swollen joint. It would have been worth asking a comment of Parks when in the MSU fifth on a full-count pitch to C.T. Bradford the pitch by Hudson Randall skipped past his catcher and into Sylvester's right wrist. The ump bounced away in pain before trying to tough it out. Unfortunately at the time Parks was one batter away from being up at bat to commiserate, or something…
And for one further Parks note, he had his first two-hit game since Thursday at the SEC Tournament at Arkansas, and only the second multi-hit outing in his last 15 contests. Both were bounced right back through the box. "The biggest hole is that one up the middle. I'm glad I found that hole twice today, it felt good to get on base for once." Parks, who as of May 12 was batting .419, had fallen to .365 and lost his SEC batting lead…
Florida played without two regulars Friday. Third baseman Zack Powers has been kept out of some games after a mid-season knee injury but is available. More noticeably, lefthanded pitcher and first baseman Brian Johnson did not return after his accident at the SEC Tournament when his catcher drilled him in the helmet on a throw towards second base. Johnson did not play in the regional last weekend either and his status is uncertain. Johnson is the Gator who swatted the decisive grand slam against State on the first day at Hoover.
Both Bulldog errors were committed by SS Jonathan Ogden, his 19th and 20th of the season. But as Cohen said, "Oggie had the two hiccups that really didn't cost us in a big way." The game was out of control by the second error which resulted in an un-earned run to the account of reliever Kendall Graeman…
Mississippi State fans made up a good contingent in the stands Friday, and impressed locals with a number of tailgate tents set up around the stadium. Bulldog folk had to be amused by folding signs posted at stadium entrances noting that no artificial noisemakers would be allowed inside. The symbol of such an item on those signs? A drawing of a cowbell, of course, in case anyone wondered what a SEC school thinks an artificial noisemaker is. At the Atlanta Regional, a MSU student was escorted out in the first inning of Saturday's game for ringing his bell…
2B Nick Vickerson had the only Bulldog extra-base hit Friday, a double in the sixth inning. It was his 27th extra base hit of the season, and his 17th in the last 21 games…For the season he is 5-of-14 against Florida…
With his third-inning single, CF C.T. Bradford has hit safely in the last twelve games. His previous streak-stretch was six…But Bradford had a string of four-straight games with a leadoff hit snapped as he struck out in the first turn. He is 7-of-21 against his home-state squad this year.
Florida was the first team all this season to hit three home runs in a game against State. Mike Zunino is now 10-of-21 in five games against Bulldog pitching, with nine runs and nine RBI.