SEC Baseball Tournament Coverage:
SEC Tournament: Watching History (Eric SanInocencio)
The Road Begins In Hoover (Sean Cartell)
SEC "Numbers Game": Hoover Time (Eric SanInocencio)
2012 SEC Baseball Tournament
Championship Game: Mississippi State 3, Vanderbilt 0
HOOVER, Ala. – For this weekend’s Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament, the league’s motto was the “Road Begins in Hoover.”
People quickly found out that road was paved with maroon bricks.
A team hotter than the weather, 21st-ranked Mississippi State shut out Vanderbilt 3-0 Sunday afternoon to claim the school’s seventh conference tournament championship before a Maroon-dominated 12,526 cowbell-clanging fans at Regions Park.
Playing six afternoon games in the tournament’s new 10-team format, MSU won five tournament games for the first time. The Bulldogs won the tournament title for a fourth time in this stadium and by shut out for the first time. MSU’s tournament title was the first since a 4-1 win over Ole Miss to grab the 2005 championship.
“I can not tell you what Bulldog nation meant to these players today,” said MSU head coach John Cohen, who became the first person to ever win the SEC tournament as both a player and coach. Cohen played on championship teams at MSU in 1987 and 1990. “It was an incredible effort by a great group of kids. They did what they have done all year. They keep battling. They battle every at-bat, every inning, every game.”
MSU will learn its postseason destination at 11 a.m. Monday when the entire 64-team NCAA regional tournament field is announced on ESPNU.
Sunday afternoon, the Bulldogs (39-22) threw their sixth shutout in similar fashion to many others throughout the year. Four different MSU pitchers stepped up and made critical pitch after critical pitch to keep the opponents handcuffed and frustrated.
Freshman Ross Mitchell (2-0) earned the win with a career-best five innings of work, in relief of starter Brandon Woodruff. In the ninth inning, Caleb Reed entered and got the Bulldogs’ 68th double play ball of the season, before Chris Stratton recorded the final out for his first career save.
“We really believe in one another,” Mitchell said. “This is an incredible feeling right now. This is what being a team is all about. This is what being a champion is all about. My job was simply to go out there, throw strikes, hoping to give our team a chance.”
The pitching quartet held Vanderbilt to six hits, while striking out five and walking four. Vanderbilt (33-26) stranded 10 base runners and failed to get the timely hit on numerous occasions.
For the tournament, a total of 11 different MSU hurlers saw mound time. The Bulldogs posted a 1.96 earned run average by allowing 47 hits and 12 earned runs in 55 innings of work. Pace by four appearances from Reed, Mitchell and Holder, the Bulldogs struck out 41 and walked 16 in the tournament.
Winners of 16 of their last 21 against conference opposition, MSU scored a single run in the third inning and expanded the lead with two scores in the fourth inning.
“The kids always believed,” Cohen said. “It is a great group of kids. They bought in from what we were doing on day one. You can win championships when you have the right kids in the dugout. I will go into battle with this group of players any time. They know the mind-set and mental toughness you have to have to win a championship.”
In the MSU third inning, tournament MVP Adam Frazier started things with a one-out single. After a groundout by Brent Brownlee, a walk to Trey Porter and infield single by Hunter Renfroe loaded the bases. A wild pitch brought Frazier home with the game’s first run.
In the MSU fourth inning, Mitch Slauter started things with a leadoff single. After a lineout and walk to Sam Frost, Daryl Norris reached as a hit batsman to load the bases. A bases-loaded walk to Frazier scored one run, while a sacrifice-fly by Brownlee scored the other.
For the tournament, Frazier finished with 12 hits in 23 at-bats. The 12 hits ranks fourth all-time in SEC tournament history, as the slugging Bulldog sophomore missed matching the all-time tournament mark by two hits. Frazier was joined on the all-tournament team by Demarcus Henderson and Jonathan Holder.
“I am so proud of this team,” Frazier said. “A lot of people counted us out earlier in the year, but we never quit believing. This is where hard work pays off. Even though they were not regulars, a lot of guys were here for the super regional run last season. They know what it is to like to play in great atmospheres and compete for championships.”
The Bulldogs finished with seven hits, including multi-hit games by Hunter Renfroe and Mitch Slauter.
Starting VU pitcher Tyler Beede (1-5) was lifted with one out in the fourth inning and took the loss. Seeing a nine-game win streak snapped, the Commodores had no multiple hittters.
2012 Attendance Figures - Regions Park
Session 1: 5,489
Session 2: 7,145
Session 3: 7,019
Session 4: 6,860
Session 5: 6,798
Session 6: 6,672
Session 7: 9,067
Session 8: 9,243
Session 9: 12,526
Total Attendance: 129,112 (New Record-High)
Average Per Game: 7,595
Average Per Session: 8,103
SEC All-Tournament Team
P Brian Johnson, Florida
P Jonathan Holder, Mississippi State
C Spencer Navin, Vanderbilt
1B Matt Snyder, Ole Miss
2B Casey Turgeon, Florida
3B Thomas McCarthy, Kentucky
SS Adam Frazier, Mississippi State
OF Connor Harrell, Vanderbilt; Mike Yastrzemski, Vanderbilt
OF Mason Katz, LSU; Justin Shafer, Florida
OF Demarcus Henderson, Mississippi State
DH Brian Johnson, Florida
2012 SEC Baseball Tournament
Regions Park • Hoover, Ala.
Championship Game • Sunday, May 27
(7) Mississippi State 3, (5) Vanderbilt 0
• Mississippi State wins its seventh SEC Tournament Title and first since 2005, which ties them for second most all-time with Alabama. LSU has won the most tournament championships with nine.
• Mississippi State improves to 39-2 overall and has received an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Vanderbilt falls to 33-26 on the year. Both teams will find out their destinations for the NCAA Regionals tomorrow at 11 a.m. CST on ESPNU.
• The Bulldogs finished the SEC Tournament 5-1, which matches an SEC Tournament record for most wins in a single tournament. In addition, their six games played also matches a tournament record.
• Vanderbilt finished as the SEC Tournament runner-up for the second straight year. The Commodores became the third team to be shut out in the SEC Championship Game and the first to be held scoreless in the championship in consecutive years. Vanderbilt has been a part of all three shutouts in a tournament championship game, shutting out Auburn in 1980, 13-0, and being shutout last season by Florida, 5-0.
• Today’s attendance of 12,526 is the eighth-highest attendance for a single game at the SEC Tournament. It was the fourth-highest attendance for a championship game.
• Total attendance for the tournament was 129,112, a new SEC Tournament record.
• For the tournament, the team that scored first won 13 of 17 games.
• This was the first time Mississippi State and Vanderbilt have met in the SEC Tournament Championship Game.
• Today’s game marked a battle of two of the hottest teams in the SEC. The Bulldogs have now won seven of their last eight games; Vanderbilt had won 10 in a row before falling in today’s championship game.
• Mississippi State SS Adam Frazier was named the SEC Tournament Most Valuable Player. He increased his hitting streak to 12 games as he picked up a single in the third and later came around to score the first run of the game. He finished 12-for-21 (.571) in Hoover with four runs scored and three RBIs. Frazier’s 88 hits breaks a single-season school record, previously held by Johnny Bench Award Winner Ed Easley in 2007. He has hit safely in 51 of 61 games this season for the Bulldogs.
• Vanderbilt OF Mike Yastrzemski had two sacrifice bunts in the SEC Tournament and two bunt singles, including one in the first inning today.
• Ross Mitchell of Mississippi State made his fourth relief appearance of the tournament and picked up the win for the Bulldogs. He pitched five innings while only allowing five hits and striking out two to go to 2-0 this year. In the tournament, Mitchell pitched 9.1 innings while only allowing eight hits and striking out seven.
• Bulldog C Mitch Slauter picked up his 10th multi-hit game of the season after he singled in the fourth and then doubled in the fifth. Overall, it was his 10th double this season.
• Mississippi State CF Hunter Renfroe picked up singles in the first and third innings for his 14th multi-hit game of the season.
• The Bulldogs turned their 67th and 68th double plays in today’s game, which continues to rank No. 3 in the nation and leads the SEC.
Mississippi State Head Coach John Cohen
“Number one, these kids are the ones who competed their hearts out. Coaching is overrated. Players’ toughness is the whole thing. These guys showed tremendous resilience. This guy [Slaughter] caught six ball games, which is an unbelievable task in itself. I also want to say, I don’t know if you can have a better home field advantage than being two-and-a-half hours away from your campus like we had today. We are in an economy where it is tough to fill up the gas tank. It is tough to get a hotel room. It is tough to be away from home. What our Mississippi State Bulldog family did today for our players is amazing. I want to thank those folks. If you ask these guys it makes a huge difference. Briefly, I thought we pitched our tails off today. [Vanderbilt] is a good offensive club. They can score runs in a whole bunch of ways. They can steal bases, any base. They can bunt. They can pressure you. They can hit it out of the ballpark. I thought that our pitching staff, along with Mitch behind the plate, really neutralized a lot of things that they tried to do. It took four guys to get it done. I am really proud of our whole club, especially those guys who really needed to grind it out who were just playing on fumes for us today.”
On what Mitch Slaughter brings as a catcher…
“We had to bring in a junior college catcher that had some experience. Butch Thompson came to me and told me he thought that he had the guy. I asked if he had seen him play. He said, ‘No, but I have talked to him on the phone and I am going to go watch him play.’ When he came back from seeing Mitch play, he said, ‘He is our guy.’ He said that he is not going to be the strongest arm in the conference, he is not going to be the best-hitting catcher in the SEC. What he has is an imagination. He has a brilliant baseball mind, and an incredibly high baseball IQ to be able to break down the game. I almost wish that everyone could make a mound visit and listen to the way he breaks down the guys walking to the plate. It’s to the point now that when I make a mound visit, I say, ‘OK, Mitch, tell me what you got.’ He breaks it down and I will add some things to it, usually not a tremendous amount extra. He is an extraordinary young man. And then you couple that with his ability to will somebody, or to coach them into the strike ball with a fastball, breaking ball, with movement. He understands mechanics of every single one of our guys on the mound. It is special. This is not being critical of any of our catchers. I think that we have two other catchers that can play for a lot of people. It is just hard to take a guy out of a game who is like an extension of your coaching staff. We can’t win the Southeastern Conference Tournament, six days, without Mitch behind the plate. I don’t care if he gets a hit. What he does for our club you just can’t measure”
Adam Frazier (Soph., SS) (2012 SEC Tournament MVP)
On his offensive effort this week…
“I am seeing the ball pretty well. I got some pitches to hit. Some balls found holes. The (BBCOR) bats are better for me, to be honest. I am not a power guy, so they are better for me. I have been seeing some good pitches and hit them.”
Mitch Slaughter (Jr., C)
On what is working for the pitching staff…
“It is about the hard work we put in before the game, (and) the preparation we have. We have a great coaching staff that gets us ready all week. Coach Thompson does an excellent job preparing them mentally. You couldn’t ask for a better group of guys that could put something like this together. Just the personalities that they have and the work ethic they have, they go at it every day.”
Ross Mitchell (Fr., P)
On his pitching effort today…
“I was just going to throw my best and as hard as I could. I kept it in the strike zone. Tony Kemp is a great batter; he is actually one of my good friends. I just tried to compete and go after it. I wasn’t going to hide away from the strike zone. If I hit them, I hit them. I was going to make sure I got that ball in.”
Vanderbilt Head Coach Tim Corbin
“You just have to congratulate Mississippi State. They played a very good game. They held us down. (Ross) Mitchell was very good. After we got (Brandon) Woodruff out of the ballgame and after we weren’t able to score in that first inning, it’s like they carried some defensive and pitching momentum into the rest of the game. We really couldn’t get much going. I think we had a few opportunities if you count that first inning. There was another inning where we had runners at second and third. Connor (Harrell) hit a well-hit ball, but the kid made a heck of a play and stranded runs that inning, and we had second and third and struck out. That stuff happens. You have to credit the guy who pitched. I just credit Mississippi State. They did a nice job.”
On his thoughts going into NCAA Regionals and what seed Vanderbilt will receive…
“I don’t know how high we are. It really doesn’t matter where we go at this point. I told the guys that I don’t (care) where they put us. They don’t care. It doesn’t matter. We’ve seen everything and faced everything. I don’t know where we’re stationed in terms of two-seeds. We’re looking forward to playing again, that’s for sure.”
On the team playing with backs against the wall this season and being prepared for what’s ahead…
“I don’t know. I would say we’ve had some good teams before, but this one is pretty durable. They’ve been tested in a lot of different ways, mentally and physically. I’m really proud of them. I told them that right after the game. It stinks to come down here, and we can’t put things in the proper perspective. It (stinks) to lose, but when you come down here six times and you’re only successful once, it puts a kind of damper on the day. As a whole - and Connor alluded to it, because I told them in the dugout - we really battled our way in the last month. I feel like we can handle anything now. We have to get a little better offensively in order for us to take steps forward. Pitching-wise and defensively, I think we’re pretty solid. I like what we’re throwing out there. I found a lot of good heartbeats this weekend. Jared Miller and his fight there at the end and Brian Miller. I love our team, but I loved them when we weren’t playing as well, and I reminded them of that, too, because it’s one thing to lose games, and it’s another thing to do the same things every day. They’re just very consistent people, and that’s why they’re deserving of successes.”
Conrad Gregor (So., 1B)
On the emotion of the game…
“This tournament’s really good for our team. All the young guys having experience the first time around this kind of crowd, this kind of environment. It’s like playing for a championship, and I think all these games are different in a little way in different aspects of the game. As you see, fundamental defense and pitching win these types of games. It’s always been done with situational clutch hitting and today, those hits just didn’t fall.”
On if he thought he had a hit for an RBI in the first inning…
“How the defense was shifted, playing the corner game and giving the middle away, I was a little early on the ball. All I could really do was put the ball up the middle and get a run. On my part, I should have looked middle, but it was a hard hit ball. The kid made a really nice play. That was kind of the story of the day. Those clutch hits didn’t get through.”
Connor Harrell (Jr., CF)
On the emotion of the game…
“I think what we’re going to take away from this weekend is our play for the entire week, the body of work; proud of what we did up to this point. We ran into a pretty tough arm today. There’s a bigger championship coming. We’re going to move forward and take the positive from it.”
On Mississippi State pitcher Ross Mitchell and how he kept Vanderbilt off-balance…
“He’s a good pitcher. He kept the ball down. He kept the ball out. Pitched to his strengths. I think he understood what a college hitter does. He was able to keep the ball down and away. You have to credit him. Obviously we didn’t make the necessary adjustments, but at the same time, he threw well and it worked for him.”