"It was great," said Frost after raising his early-season average 97 whole points in just one night's work. "I'm just trying to get hot for the right time. Coach Cohen has been working with me the last couple of days, working on staying within myself and not trying to do too much."
The five different Devil pitchers that had to face Frost already thought he was doing far too much. He slapped a two-RBI double to complete a five-run first inning for the Bulldogs, blooped an accidental bunt-single in the fifth that scored another teammate; drove in a pair the next inning with his second two-bagger; and ended his evening with the first college triple. He finished with five RBI and two runs scored himself.
"Sam did a great job tonight," Coach John Cohen said. "He's worked really hard and tried to make some adjustments. He's been a little more selective in the right sequences and a little more aggressive in the right sequences."
Other Dogs had good offensive evenings also, as DH Jet Butler hit safely three times for one RBI and two runs; and both RF Ryan Collins and 1B Connor Powers added a pair of hits each. Yet Mississippi State only managed to collect 13 total base hits…because Devil pitching was diabolically bad most of the affair with nine walks and seven hit batsmen. No less than eight Valley pitchers took turns, beginning with Steven Barnes (0-3) who took the loss on just one-plus inning. That was long enough though to allow six runs on two hits and six walks.
Cohen and pitching coach Butch Thompson made a move, sending series-starter Nick Routt to the mound for a midweek opening. "He needed to get back out there and create some sink and get back to his old delivery," said Cohen. "He shortened up his arm-action and looked more like he did last year." Routt went two full frames with four strikeouts and nothing negative on the line score, evening his record at 1-1.
After Routt ended the short stint eight teammates took turns, six of them going a complete inning while Chad Girodo and Matt Lane divided the Valley eighth. All told the Devils mustered only five hits with ten strikeouts, and State pitching issued lone walks in the third (Corey Collins) and ninth (Devin Jones) in a fine show of control.
"We got a chance to give a lot of people opportunities," Cohen said. "That was good."
Devil righty Barnes looked good striking out three in the first inning; trouble was he also walked five and hit one to account for the first three Bulldog runs. Frost's double at the bottom of the frame was State's first hit and made it a 5-0 scoreboard. In the second a shortstop error and walk had two Bulldogs on when C Cody Freeman singled off Barnes to score Collins. And, finish Barnes.
Valley got on the board in their third at the expense of Tyler Whitney, as he gave up a single and hit batsman to the top of the order. A good pickoff and bad rundown allowed the lead runner to reach third where Jerry Hildreth broke up the shutout with his RBI-grounder.
MSU more than matched that in their fifth as MVSU's Craig Cymerman hit CF Jaron Shepherd and advanced him with two dirtballs. Frost tried to bunt him in, only to have his blooper get over a falling first baseman for a chink hit and RBI. A double-steal by State allowed Collins to score both 3B Nick Vickerson and Frost on his base knock for a 9-1 score.
MSU shoved five more across in the bottom of the sixth as Mark Kaplan put the eight- and nine-hole hitters on bases. Britt Goodman got the relief call only to give up Frost's second two-run double. A Collins sac-fly scored Frost, and sub-C Wes Thigpen and Butler drove in runners for the 14-1 margin. The last Devil pitcher of the evening, Jesus Aleman, gave up a run-scoring hit to Duffy and wild-pitched in Butler.
State closer Devin Jones got to work the last turn, allowing the other Valley run abetted by defensive breakdowns. Brad Gibson singled and a double-error by Vickerson as he bobbled a grounder and then threw wild of first had Devils on corners. Jack Edmonson scored the lead runner with a ground-out before Jones finished the affair with a pair of swinging strikeouts.
"We got some things done tonight, though we'd like to clean up that ninth inning a little bit," Cohen said. "But overall it was a good performance."
But at the same time Mississippi State will have to perform even better as the hit the SEC road for the first league weekend of 2010. In fact the Bulldogs were due to depart Starkville at 3:00am for Birmingham and their flight to Gainesville. The three-game set at Florida runs 5:30 Friday, 6:00 Saturday, and noon Sunday.
Routt has opened the three non-conference weekends to date, but by throwing the sophomore tonight State has shown the rotation is changing. "Our plan is to throw him on Sunday," said Cohen. "We'll see how he feels tomorrow. Coach Thompson has really worked hard with him, and it's no secret we can't be the team we want to be without a successful Nick Routt. And I think he took a good positive step tonight."
Cohen had not locked down a rotation immediately after the game, but moving Routt likely means that freshmen Chris Stratton and Kendall Gravemen are due to start the Friday-Saturday contests. "That's probably how we're going to go, but we're not sure yet." What State is assured of is the need for the pitching to take a serious step-up, the defense to clean-up some aspects, and the offense to come up bigger than ever this season. Mississippi Valley might have offered little more than batting practice but every hit and run helps the mindset, said Frost.
"Any time you get a big win it always makes you feel good about yourself. And we need all the confidence we can get going against a good team like Florida."