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Gators chomp on Dog pitchers

June 12, 2011

Florida's Preston Tucker, right, hits a home run in the seventh inning off MSU during Super Regional action Sunday. (Photo by Phil Sandlin, AP)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. ­– Throughout the season Mississippi State had counted on the reliability of the combination of pitchers Luis Pollorena and Caleb Reed.
One more time, MSU head coach John Cohen rolled those pair of dice but Sunday it failed to get them to the College World Series in Omaha in an 8-6 loss at Florida.
“I think when you’re a coach in the Southeastern Conference, your whole life is a roll of the dice,” Cohen said after the win Saturday.
Pollorena, who changed roles between a middle-reliever and starter throughout the season, didn’t get the groundballs that have made him successful throughout the 2011 season as the Gators lineup tee off for three home runs and four runs in the only two innings he was out on the mound.
In the second inning, Florida got three consecutive hits including back-to-back home runs from Daniel Pigott and Vickash Ramjit to put Mississippi State in an early 4-0 hole.
“We needed a little swing-and-miss there and Pollo didn’t have command in and out,” Cohen said. “When all of sudden, they’re taking great swings and there’s no bad posture or body language then you got to do something different quickly.”
The sophomore from Laredo, Texas ends the season with a 10.13 earned run average against the Gators lineup. The last time before Sunday that Pollorena faced Florida, he gave up the game-winning grand slam home run in the opening game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament to Gators designated Brian Johnson.
When MSU got the lead back in the seventh inning and was in a tough spot, they went again to their closer Reed to get them through a two-on with only one out scenario.
“Caleb told us I want the ball in the ninth (inning), give me the ball in the ninth,” Cohen said. “Well, the ninth was the sixth. The ninth in the kid’s mind is different than the ninth in our mind. The game was screaming out – we got to have a stop and that’s when we needed Caleb.”
Instead Reed, who had thrown 82 pitches in relief less than 24 hours before, gave up the game-winning home run to Florida cleanup hitter Preston Tucker with first base open to give the Gators its seventh trip to the College World Series in school history.
“We weren’t going to get to the ninth inning if we didn’t give him the baseball right there,” Cohen said. “He was our best strike thrower coming out of the bullpen and I would do that one thousand times in a row again. He’s our best guy.”
Cohen said that the plan was for Reed to keep everything thrown to Tucker away from the left-handed bat and the Bulldogs junior tried to throw him a changeup low and away but the pitch was around the strike zone enough for him to give Florida a 7-6 advantage.
“We thought we could get him to chase a changeup out of the zone,” Cohen said. “We thought Caleb could pitch around the left-hander there and he went down and got it. (Tucker) did a great job.”
Mississippi State’s plan was to somehow get six outs away from a berth to Omaha and figure out the bullpen rotation from there. The Tucker home run didn’t allow MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson that luxury.
“We weren’t going to have Caleb go longer than that inning,” Cohen said. “We knew that was the ballgame there and it turned out to be so.”
Words exchanged
in heated post-game
Coaching staffs from both Florida and Mississippi State had heated verbal exchanges at home plate following the Gators victory.
In the first out of the ninth inning for the Bulldogs, senior designated hitter Cody Freeman hit a pop fly that was easily caught by Gators catcher Mike Zunino but it was everything around the play that ended in controversy.
While the ball was in the air, MSU assistant coach Nick Mingione appeared to throw his leg out in front of Florida first baseman Vickash Ramjit and tripped the sophomore infielder.
While it appeared Mingione attempted to help Ramjit up and make sure he wasn’t hurt, Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan ran across the field yelling at the MSU coaching staff. This immediately caught the attention of MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson and the two opposing coaches were face-to-face before being separated by home plate umpire Billy Speck.
“Sometimes things happen,” Cohen said. “It’s all forgotten in the end. That’s what competing is all about.”
Cohen had words with O’Sullivan when the opposing coaching staffs went to home plate for the post-game handshake immediately being followed up by O’Sullivan sprinting over to the Florida dugout to do a Gator chomp motion to the UF fans. Cohen was seen screaming at the Florida dugout as he left the field.
“I’ve thought about it (and) both teams battled for three hours today,” O’Sullivan said. “Everybody’s emotions are riding high. I would hate to have that one incident be the main focus of the game.”
Cohen and O’Sullivan both refused to comment further on the situation in the post-game media conference.

Team arrival

The Mississippi State baseball team was scheduled to depart by bus from Gainesville to Orlando, Fla., today to catch a 10 a.m. flight back to Birmingham, Ala.
The team bus is expected to arrive in Starkville between noon and 1 p.m. today.

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