Closing The Starkville Regional Notebook

THIS COULD BE YOU SOMEDAY: Fans likely noticed all those boys Monday night wearing Bulldog Baseball Camp shirts to the game. This wasn't a promotion either. "We have our first day of camp!" Coach John Cohen said after Mississippi State's Regional championship game victory.

Yes, the Mississippi State staff's duties are doubled this week. And while the coaches will assuredly spend the necessary time organizing campus practices, working with the NCAA on travel schedule, and scouting Virginia…know this. They take this camping business just as seriously. Really.

And not simply because by scheduling camp this week, they made a commitment to youngsters. Camps are a vital part of this program's overall future. As Cohen noted after the press conference, several of the starters or contributors to the championship game—such as pitcher Ben Bracewell for just one example—were exposed to Bulldog baseball at a camp. And in-turn, State's coaches got to grade them as prospects.

This doesn't mean MSU only recruits off camps, understand. Yet Cohen explains seeing kids, even middle-schoolers, taking cuts and making throws and fielding balls in these summer circumstances is as valuable as high school game scouting. Maybe more, since recruiting now extends to ninth graders and maybe younger.

The real if unplanned Bulldog bonanza is that now perhaps one or more rising prospects just saw for themselves what Dudy Noble Field is at its tourney-time best. It's also entirely likely, a future Diamond Dog spent Monday night envisioning what he would look like in the white-and-pinstripes and celebrating a Regional championship before thousands of happy fans. This sort of recruiting tool can't be bought, only won.

M.O.P.-ING UP: Alex Detz said he had no clue he'd been named the Regional Most Outstanding Player. "I actually didn't know until someone told me on the walk over here. I'm sure a bunch of people could have been MVP."

True, Detz had genuine competition from both his club and the opposition. Had Central Arkansas pulled off the final upset pitcher Bryce Biggerstaff would have likely gotten the most votes for two winning outings. But once State had taken control Monday and ballots were collected around the sixth inning, it was bound to be a Bulldog.

The other top candidates were 1B Wes Rea, as much for some key hitting as the brilliant defensive work in game-one; and for how Rea simply settles the entire defense down at times, pitcher included. 2B Brett Pirtle was marked on many ballots Sunday before Central Arkansas forced the extra game.

But when Detz went 8-of-13 for the Regional with four runs scored, he locked-up MOP honors almost unanimously from the media voting. Another good measure of Detz' value was the one game he went hitless was State's lone loss. As the junior designated hitter hit, so went his offense and team.

Detz did it with a bunch of relatively routine singles, too, working in the two-slot. "I didn't hit the ball that hard, but I was seeing it pretty good all weekend." Which much as anything epitomized the Bulldog batting. Contact and pressure prevailed over the whole haul.

Interestingly too, Detz did not play the field at all. Because every opponent started a righthander, State went with a lefthander-heavy order which put Detz at DH so Sam Frost could play his third base position. So, did not having to play defense help or hinder his hitting?

"I don't think so. Once the at-bat is going nothing else is going through your head than the at-bat. It just feels like more time in-between at-bats when you're DH'ing. You have a lot of time to think about what you did."

CLUTCH CLUB: True, manufacturing runs isn't the easiest scoring system. And the pressure placed on batters to deliver when they are the last and often only chance to drive somebody in is immense. Yet, these Diamond Dogs do seem to thrive on the intensity…even more so than the 2012 team which was the poster-children for scratch-and-claw offense.

Of the 19 runs State scored this weekend, 16 were plated with two outs and two more came across on ground balls that were turned into a second out. That's an amazing statistic to many minds. Not, however, to the Bulldogs or their coach.

"We got the timely hits, the two-out hits," said Cohen. "That seems to be our trademark. But several of them were with two strikes, which is something that we've excelled at when we've been going good this season."

As RF Hunter Renfroe said, this team is at its offensive best when making basic contact. It's an ironic comment from a fellow who won the Boo Ferriss Trophy and first-team All-SEC at least partly on his 15 home runs, yet Renfroe is entirely right. He said Sunday's loss was largely caused by batters swinging too big, too hard in a frustrating game.

Monday, the Dogs settled down and returned to identity. "We got shorty and quicky," Renfroe said. "Yesterday we got big and trie to hit balls out of the ballpark, which wasn't going to happen." It certainly didn't. There was not a home run hit in the entire Regional, maybe the only one out of 16 events without a longball. For that matter only a handful of hits got to the warning track on the fly. The closest call for State was a Sunday drive by Rea caught on the leap and in front of the fence (not wall) in centerfield.

For the title game, "We didn't change anything," Renfroe said. "We got real quick with our hand and the ball came off really well and we got hits." He got three of the 11 in fact, making Renfroe 6-of-17 on the weekend with five RBI.

He also got a single in his first Monday at-bat, further evidence Renfroe is getting back to mid-season form when he was leading the league in average and slugging alike. "Starting off with a hit helps a ton. I just have to bring that to Virginia."

BACK TO OLD VIRGINNY: Take it back, he means. Asked Monday night what he expects of the super Regional setting, Renfroe deadpanned "I don't know, I played pretty well in Virginia to be honest with you!" before cracking a grin.

This time last June Renfroe was headed to the Cal Ripken Collegiate League, where he had a spectacular summer with the Bethesda (MD) Big Train. There he smashed, literally, the League's home run record and had his number retired. The CRCL began in the Maryland/D.C. area but also has three Virginia-based clubs.

None are in Charlottesville so that is a new venue to Renfroe and the whole State squad. "I can't name one player on their team!" Cohen claimed, a strong statement given how college coaches track signings everywhere. By Tuesday morning the coach had corrected that to some extent with initial scouting.

Meanwhile Renfroe is counting on some of Dudy Noble Field to follow their team another weekend. "It wouldn't be surprising to me if we had as many supporters in Virginia," he said in something of an overstatement. A better question is if Renfroe will carry with him the same cowbell he brought to the post-game presser. It's a very well-used maroon one, dented and scratched by right-field fanatics who are Renfroe's closest DNF friends.

"It's been through the ringer a few times," said Renfroe. "But it's been through a lot." Then, when asked if the Phi Mu logo on that bell meant anything…Renfroe carefully turned it so the other side faced the press corps cameras. A story that might bear further examination, maybe?

It will also bear watching how the genteel Cavalier folk respond to a bunch of bell-ringing Bulldogs showing up in Charlottesville. If Monday night was a measure, some of that good old days fervor has returned to Dudy Noble Field. Players certainly enjoyed playing to packed houses and after giving fans the victory they wanted, they made the rounds of the stadium to slap hands and hug.

"Obviously you saw what was there," said Renfroe. "That's not news to anybody. The fans are 100% supportive of us. Everybody saw the fans reacting to us winning and going to a super regional."

LEFT SIDE STORY: Having faced Central Arkansas five times already, it was no surprise State came with another righthanded starter in Bracewell. Nor was it really unexpected when lefthander Chad Girodo was the first bullpen Bulldog called on, since Girodo had followed starter Kendall Graveman on Friday too against this same club.

But after neutralizing a bases-loaded jam he inherited; then another he created the next inning, Girodo stayed in. And stayed, and stayed, and ultimately finished a most remarkable victory. Not only did he go a season-long 6.1 innings, but he had a career-best 12 strikeouts of a team that doesn't swing-and-miss much against anyone.

The key was getting the first pitch in the zone untouched, Girodo said. "I knew I had to go first-pitch strike, because they'll take until they get a strikes and they don't like swinging the bat early. So I knew I had to fill up the zone and try my best to miss barrels." Other than that, Girodo claimed his work was no different than usual.

Going with Girodo wasn't a guess, Cohen said, or even much gamble. "We knew he was very capable of doing what he did. We haven't extended him like this much in his career. But he just did a masterful job tonight." Because, the coach said, Girodo's specialty of a left-handed slider and mid-80s fastball from an altered arm slot makes him more effective against righthanded hitters than the ‘book' says it should.

DON'T ASK, HE WON'T TELL: There was an interesting moment in the Central Arkansas sixth inning involving Girodo though. He'd gotten out of those aforementioned jams and stranded a bunch of Bears already, and was working with a 4-0 lead. Then he began the inning with a walk, and a pinch-hitter (a righty) took Girodo's first offering to leftfield for a double.

With a pair in scoring positions and no outs, pitching Coach Butch Thompson came to the mound. In almost every such case, that signals a pitching change. But after a talk with the whole infield, Thompson and team returned to their positions as usual. This was absolutely worth a post-game question.

"Well, we were just checking to see how he was," Cohen said. OK, but is that not what the head coach usually does in such situations? "Kids seem to tell me that they're always fine even if they're not. I think in some respects they're a little more honest with Butch!"

"So when he got into a heavier pitch count, butch was saying how do you feel, do you want to finish this thing, do we need to get somebody else in the ball game? (Chad) said hey, I wanted this. And you could tell Chad really wanted this sucker."

STRESS TEST: As noted, Cohen and staff are working overtime this week between super regional preparations and starting up summer camps. Any would keep the tempo up around the baseball office, but the thought of who he was about to scout had the head coach shaking off the Regional-championship celebrating already.

"The six Excedrin that I took today will probably take me 24 to48 hours to realize how good Virginia is, and I'll need to replenish my supply! But hopefully our kids will get rested-up, and we'll get prepared to try and win a series. It's a lot like a SEC weekend, but now there isn't a third game if you don't win those first two. But certainly our kids have really looked forward to this opportunity, and now they've been given the opportunity."

MONDAY, MONDAY: Because they did not seal Sunday's deal, Mississippi State had to add a day to the Starkville Regional. Happily, extending the weekend into the week was a winner for the Dogs. For that matter, they should have known history was on their side…even if the most recent example came when some current players hadn't even begun elementary school.

This was the fifth time a Starkville Regional had to be completed on Monday, and the home team has won every time.

Back in 1979 after dropping the first-round game, State battled through the losers bracket of the six-team field. That included taking two Sunday wins and setting up rubber game with Murray State won 18-8. In 1985 it was Michigan forcing an extra game with a Sunday night win. Those Bulldogs bounced-back well with a Monday win, on Memorial Day holiday no less. In the other two cases it was weather altering the schedules.

In 1990, Sunday morning showers delayed State's second game with Florida State (this was a day after The Masters Grand Slam game) from afternoon to evening. The Seminoles won to require a Monday rematch taken by the Bulldogs. Then again in 1997 weekend weather interfered, though this time it was State having to come through the losers bracket. They beat Washington on Sunday, then came back to DNF Monday for another victory.

What it all adds-up to is, of the six Starkville Regionals won by Diamond Dogs five have been completed on Mondays. The one obvious difference in this case is in all four previous instances Monday wins punched tickets to Omaha. This time it sends State on to the super Regional round.

TURNING STILES: The final attendance total for the Starkville Regional's seven games was 61,433. Of that 41,114 attended State's four games with a largest crowd of 11,142 on Saturday to watch a win over South Alabama.

Though Monday's forced-final game drew ‘only' 8,662 this was by all counts an impressive turnout for an unscheduled contest on a work day. By contrast, veteran fans recall the near-9,200 who showed up in the old stadium to watch State drop the 1985 Sunday game with Michigan; and how Monday's Memorial Day gate was about 3,500.

Plus, as Cohen reminded, school is out for the most part now yet students came back in strong numbers to watch their team win the Regional Monday. And the Bulldogs rewarded them accordingly.

"These kids wanted to bring a Regional to Starkville, and that's exactly what they did," said Cohen. "Our fans created an unbelievable atmosphere all weekend long. It just truly is a special place, especially during regional time, and our fans didn't disappoint. I can tell you there was a lot of discussion in our locker room."


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