HOOVER, Ala. – The Maroon Out is in full effect at the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Mississippi State won for the fourth time in five tries at the league’s annual year-end party. MSU is back in the conference championship game for the first time since 2005 with Saturday’s 2-1 win against Kentucky at Regions Park.
MSU (38-22) will face either Vanderbilt (32-25) or Florida (42-17) in Sunday’s title matchup. The contest will be televised nationally by ESPN2 and will also be available online through ESPN3.
“It is all about determination,” MSU head coach John Cohen said. “These kids come to the ballpark every day expecting to win. Yes, we have played five games in five days against some of the best teams in the nation. We have played in the heat of the day, but none of that matters to this bunch.
“The goal is simple — find a way to a win a ballgame.”
MSU has now four conference tournament games on five different occasions. The Bulldogs will be back in the title match for the first time since besting Ole Miss 4-1 in the 2005 championship game. MSU will be trying for its seventh conference tournament championship and fourth such title in this venue.
Saturday’s victory also allowed MSU to match last season’s win total with victory No. 38. The Maroon and White also knocked off the Top-15 Wildcats for a fourth time this season – that is a first in program history.
The semifinal triumph was wrapped in the proper colors the same way as many as those other 38 victories. MSU played the bunting game to perfection and turned two critical sacrifices into run-scoring opportunities in the second and third innings.
From there, a dominant MSU pitching staff brought the contest home. One of the league’s best offensive teams was held to 13 total runs in five contests by the Bulldog hurlers.
“With our pitching staff, we know it just takes a couple of good innings,” MSU sophomore shortstop Adam Frazier said. “As hitters, we have to make adjustments and find a way to put some balls in play. We did that today.”
While the temperature was warm enough to make any Bulldog hot, Frazier has taken warmth to another level. Hitting safely in 50 of MSU’s 60 games this season, Frazier has a tournament best 11 hits in 20 at-bats at Hoover.
In the MSU second inning, Demarcus Henderson singled and took second base on a Mitch Slauter sacrifice. Wes Rea followed with an RBI-single.
Kentucky (43-16) answered quickly with the first of J.T. Riddle’s three hits being a game-tying solo home run.
Not deterred, small ball pushed the Maroon and White into the lead for good an inning later. Frazier started things with a leadoff single. This time, Brent Brownlee had the sacrifice. Trey Porter followed with a two-out RBI single.
From there, the pitching quarter of Luis Pollorena, Ben Bracewell, Nick Routt and Jonathan Holder sealed the deal.
Routt (3-5) worked 3.1 innings of three-hit shutout relief, in place of Bracewell. Bracewell had followed Pollorena to the hill in the third inning. Jonathan Holder worked around a leadoff error in the ninth inning for his ninth save.
MSU pitching held Kentucky to nine hits, and struck out eight, while walking two.
UK starter Corey Littrell (8-2) worked six innings, allowing six hits and two runs (both earned), with six strikeouts and two walks. Both setbacks for the UK ace have come to the Bulldogs.
Thomas McCarthy and Zac Zellars each had multiple hits for the Wildcats. McCarthy tied a tournament record with three doubles in UK’s 5-1 win against MSU earlier in the tournament.
Frazier was the only multiple-hitter for the Bulldogs.