The Diamond Dogs (22-15, 7-8) did not leave the field for a while. Not until after a lengthy team meeting after the defeat, then putting out the tarp for oncoming weather which might impact Coach John Cohen's emphatic plans for a Monday practice. The head coach had several innings to consider what will happen tomorrow too, after Mississippi State fell behind 7-0 at the half-way point.
"Ole Miss played really well today, I give them all the credit in the world," Cohen said first. Followed by "I'm not sure we could have beaten a very good junior high baseball team today."
Allowing that it would have taken a superior Sunday effort to handle the hot Rebel bats and a strong pitching performance from Sam Smith, the Bulldogs were simply flat. Or shockingly flat for a team that responded to a 5-2 Saturday deficit in the tenth inning to win 6-5 in walk-off style. There was no carry-over for the rubber game which may have frustrated coach and crowd more than the score.
And there was a fine Sunday crowd of 10,371 too, hoping to build on the previous day's drama. Instead, "We were absolutely uninspired in every phase of the game," said Cohen. "Very disappointing. From our prep movement before pitches to everything. And every bit of it is my fault, we've got to do a better job with our kids and it starts tomorrow with practice."
Bulldog players were not requested for interviews as there was not a lot they could have or should have said. The numbers spoke loudly enough as six Rebels collected multiple hits and all over the order. ##8 batter Preston Overby was 3-of-5 with three RBI and a run, while in #2 Auston Bousfield had a 3-of-6 day with two runs and a RBI. And those were just the best lines from several strong showings.
Smith's was in his own way. The junior righthander (5-2) went 6.0-plus turns with six hits, a couple of walks and three strikeouts. He did take the two Bulldog runs but not until the seventh and with a decision safely secured.
And the offensive support came quickly as Bulldog pitching sputtered. This was a topic of Sunday concern all along; with rotation righty Preston Brown out for a second weekend State had already used the two weekend records to split the series. And both Sunday candidates had worked on Tuesday in a 10-inning win over Southern Mississippi. Rather than risk a rookie in a must-win situation, State stayed with ‘co' starters Ben Bracewell and Brandon Woodruff.
Neither was sharp, whether from short rest or any other factor. Bracewell issued a full-count walk to lead off and made the steal easier with a wild pitch. A single had Rebels on corners with still no outs, and Woodruff running to the bullpen already as a passed ball scored Braxton Lee and put Auston Bousfield on second, where he could score on a gap-double by Austin Anderson.
After a talk Bracewell managed to complete that inning with a strikeout, fly ball, and bouncer. A double-play eased the second inning, before putting a pair on in the third. Or three actually, since Bracewell did erase a Lee hit with a pickoff. On 3-1 count Woodruff took over and he lined Sikes Orvis out on full count to strand a trio.
It only delayed the deluge. A leadoff triple in the fourth began the outburst, and Woodruff had a shot lined off himself for runners on corners. Overby scored one with his single, and another passed ball advanced the remaining pair so Erroll Robinson could make it 4-0 with a base hit. With an out and runners still on corners C Gavin Collins bit on the double-steal and not only was Robinson safe at second but Overby came on home. Anderson drove in his second RBI of the day and his team's tenth base hit.
From there the only questions left were how much the final margin would be, and if the home team would score. Ole Miss kept expanding with a run in their fifth, two more in the sixth, and the same cycle repeated in the seventh and eighth. They put their first batter-up on base in six of the first eight chances regardless of who was hurling.
Bracewell (2-3) took the loss on 2.2 innings with the first two runs on five hits, two walks and a strikeout. Woodruff lasted 2.1 with seven runs on as many hits, two walks and no fannings. The pair threw 46 and 48 pitches respectively. With a 7-0 deficit LHP Lucas Laster inherited a pair of runners in the sixth with no outs, added a third to the paths, and was hit for a couple of RBI by Will Allen. Laster was charged with three runs on five hits with a strikeout in his 2.0 innings.
RHP Myles Gentry threw the last two turns with three hits and two strikeouts.
Smith was hit in his first four innings on the hill, just not enough to do damage as he had a shutout into the seventh. LF Derrick Armstrong got a little something going at last with a chopper to the left side for an infield hit. RF Jake Vickerson followed with a single through the right side that completed Smith's tour. LHP Jeremy Massie entered and State countered by pinch-hitting for the nine-hole man. 3B Reid Humphreys seized this chance; he lined the first pitch down the left line for a double and scored Armstrong.
Vickerson was able to cross from third on a SS Seth Heck grounder to the right side, and that was all the State scoring. Armstrong was the lone Dog with two hits out of the team's eight. And while State had just four strikeouts, they also received just four walks and no HBPs this game.
Dropping this series, combined with last weekend's sweeping at Louisiana State, drops Mississippi State under break-even at the half-way point of SEC season. A year ago at this time they were 8-7 with a tough second half schedule ahead and finished 16-14. And did so in a much stronger conference than this league looks in 2014.
In fact, despite going 1-5 against the two top rivals, these Diamond Dogs remain in the middle of the mid-way standings; tied with four other teams for 7th place and, more incredibly, only three games behind overall leader Alabama. Of the remaining five series four come against teams that currently State is either tied with or ahead of in the standings.
So, "We've got a ton of season left," Cohen noted. "Every part of us has to get better, and it all starts tomorrow." A Monday that rain or shine sets up to be as decisive for this team's future as any series ahead. Cohen repeated, the players are not at fault for the past two lost weekends. In fact, "I feel I made the bad pitches today, I feel I made the bad defensive plays, I feel I had the bad at-bats. It's not our players, they've got to be directed better and our coaching staff has to do a better job. And we will."
How so, he was asked? "I guess you'd have to show up at practice tomorrow to find that out."
Besides practice, Mississippi State has to figure out what arms can be used Tuesday in a 6:30 home game against Alcorn State.