Rookie Routt Has Dog Debut To Remember

Until this weekend, Nick Routt had never seen a real game played on Dudy Noble Field. Now the freshman pitcher not only has witnessed a pair of Mississippi State home wins here, he has a victory to call his own. "It's awesome," said Routt.

The rookie lefthander was close enough to such status himself Saturday, tossing eight complete innings and holding North Florida down to a lone run long enough for Mississippi State's offense to take over and finish a 7-1 victory on day-two of the BankFirst Challenge. The Bulldogs won their second game in as many days, while the Eagles evened their record at 1-1. State was to play Friday night victim Northern Illinois again today, but threatening weather made the 4:00 contest questionable as this was filed.

Beyond question was the effort by Routt in his first appearance both at DNF and as a collegian. He survived some early challenges, most notably a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the second inning, with minimal damage and made it all look routine. Easy, even, which was all the more remarkable for a rookie.

"I was a little nervous out there the first pitch," Routt said. "But after that I settled down. I got out of the second inning with only one run so after that I was on cruise control. My defense helped me out, they turned a lot of double-plays, and the catcher was great."

It was a great way to begin a career. Routt's final line showed seven hits and the one run with only one walk and four strikeouts. The southpaw didn't overpower as much as, in conjunction with backstop Ryan Duffy and the coaching calls, he just out-pitched the visitors. His fastest stuff only got into the upper 80s but the location was competent, the changeup even more effective, and even some sliders well-done. "But that's still a work in progress," Routt admitted.

His total work added up to 89 pitches and if this hadn't been the first weekend of the season, and his first outing, Routt might have been allowed to finish the day. For safety's sake the freshman sat the last frame with Greg Houston stranding a pair of runners in the ninth to conclude State's win.

Phil Rorabaugh took the loss in his first '09 decision, charged with three runs on seven hits along with four strikeouts and a walk. For five innings the righthander had a shutout going and had stranded a half-dozen Dogs, until DH Russ Sneed turned the game around with a three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth.

Routt really did need to work through the initial stages of his first start. He overcame a first-inning single but consecutive hits and a hit batter loaded the bases with no outs. The rookie rose to the challenge by striking out Michael Smith—he was still so excited afterwards that he couldn't recall if it was a high fastball or changeup. "The adrenalin was rushing! I needed a strikeout there, and let my defense take care of the rest." Which worked nicely as a fly ball to left that did bring a sacrifice-run home but no more. A high-fly to center left the Dogs down just 1-0, and there they would stay into the sixth inning.

"That's pretty much the worst situation you can be in. So after that everything was easy." It certainly looked so because Routt was able to sit all but two of the next 15 batters, and one of those was erased on a twin-killing in the top of the sixth. The outs were nicely mixed between routine flies and manageable grounders. "That's what you want. Duffy did a great job keeping me down the whole game. I left a couple of balls up and they got hit."

State had hits and runners in all the first five innings with nothing to show for it. In fact the bags were filled in the opening frame by a hit batsman, Luke Adkins single, and walk of Duffy. All were left stranded by a fly ball to center. A leadoff single by 2B Frankie Radow, his first college safety, was negated by a double play. More frustrating was the third turn as Collins tripled off the centerfield wall to open. He had to hold on a bouncer to the mound, then tried coming in on a grounder to third base only to be run down.

Rorabaugh plunked 3B Jarrod Parks in the MSU fourth with no damage done. A one-out single by Collins in the fifth also came to nought as he was picked off the bag. Cohen chose to protest to ump Joey Weaver though Collins certainly seemed caught. And after Goforth reached on a bunt/error, Weaver bang-banged Adkins on a much closer call to end the inning which had State's coach fuming further.

The State sixth could have followed the same theme as with one out Duffy and Parks singled their ways on, only to have rookie Radow miss on 2-2. But veteran Sneed was swinging in the eight-slot and had seen Rorabaugh twice already with a pop to shortstop and fielders choice grounder.

This time he got a 1-0 offering right down the chute and drove it high and long enough that the UNF leftfielder took a single step before stopping to watch the three-run blast. How calm was Routt as his DH returned to the dugout? "I was all over Russ! That was big, a bomb!" It also finished Rorabaugh and righty John Frawley came in to end the inning a swing too late.

Frawley had his own issues the following frame anyway. A one-out walk of Goforth and seeing-eye single from Adkins had a pair of Dogs on for C.Powers, who'd struggled against the UNF starter. The reliever was another matter as Powers dropped a drive into leftfield and beat the relay to second base for a RBI-double. Duffy lashed his first pitch from Frawley over first base and down into the corner for his own two-bagger, a couple of RBI, and the 6-1 lead.

Even with a lead Routt didn't relax, and intensity was needed as he had a pair on with two outs in the top of the seventh. He left those tying runs on bags with a lovely 2-2 changeup that UNF shortstop Sam Perry couldn't contact. A one-out single in his eighth inning was no problem as three-slot swinger Preston Hale grounded to second for a 4-6-3 double play.

"I wanted to go back out for the ninth. But my pitch count was too high and Coach wouldn't let me go back out." Houston gave a hit and walk to open his stint, but a nice play by Radow on a grounder got one out and shortstop Ryan Powers ended the affair by pulling in a line-shot and stepping on second for the fourth double play of the Dogs' day.

Sneed, Collins, Adkins, and Duffy all had a pair of base hits as State notched a dozen safeties to North Florida's eight. Eagle centerfielder Brian Wilson did all he could, hitting singles in all four chances.

At this filing (3:30) the tarp was on the field while State and Northern Illinois waited to see if the day's other game was played. The Bulldogs will take on North Florida at 2:30, with no weather issues anticipated.


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