If there is a bigger culprit in the recent decline in college baseball offense than the bats and the dimensions of some fields -- and both got attention during Tuesday night's broadcast of the Georgia-Mississippi State game -- then it has been the almost addictive overuse of the bunt by head coaches. And the bunt plays a key role in our drama tonight.
For a while, it looked like there would be no real drama. The only lower seed to win in the first three games of the SEC baseball tournament Tuesday had been Kentucky, which won the 8-vs.-9 game. And given that the Wildcats actually had a slightly better RPI than Alabama, you can argue that the UK win wasn't really an upset at all. After Mississippi State scored three runs in the sixth during the nightcap to take a 4-2 lead, it looked like the game was over.
It looked even more like the game was over when Lucas Laster walked out to the mound in the ninth after having allowed just four Georgia hits in the first eight innings. But after a single and a fielder's choice, Mississippi State head coach John Cohen decided he'd seen enough -- and went to the bullpen. It didn't take long for the wheels to fall off, and a pair of two-out singles for Georgia later tied the game.
The game-winning run scored in the 10th inning in spite of Cohen's decision to bunt, not because of it. After a leadoff single by Gavin Collins, Derrick Armstrong attempted to lay down a bunt. On the 3-1 pitch, he got hit by the pitch to put runners on first and second. Cohen decided to bunt again, this time with Jake Vickerson. It was a good bunt, and Georgia catcher Brandon Stephens' only play was at first -- except that Stephens promptly threw the ball away, allowing Collins to score.
It was a heartbreaking end to the season for Georgia, in part because the Dawgs had to win the SEC tournament to have any realistic chance at getting into the NCAA playoffs. Scott Stricklin's team made progress during his first season in Athens, but the final game showed a lot of the reasons why the team didn't get any further than it did.
Mississippi State, which survived a 17-inning marathon against Missouri to begin last year's SEC tournament -- also a 5-vs.-12 game -- advances to play South Carolina on Wednesday as the double-elimination stage of the tournament begins. Given the Gamecocks' well-known penchant for late-game heroics, it could be an entertaining game.