Hot Dog Pollo Chills Down Southern Miss Bats

The Mississippi boys of both squads weren't bothered too much by Friday's mid-90s temperatures in Atlanta. So what of Luis Pollorena? "It's 115 right now back in Laredo," the Texas native said. "So this wasn't bad. I thought I was in winter for a while."

Not really. But on a warm June 3 the Bulldog surely put a big chill in Southern Mississippi's offense, as Pollorena pitched six of the scoreless innings in a 3-0 NCAA regional victory. Pollorena, the first-year sophomore righthander from south Texas by way of Marion Military Institute in Alabama, was just the hot hand Mississippi State needed.

For two-thirds of the afternoon game Pollorena gutted through a dangerous Golden Eagle order, limiting them to five hits and nothing on the scoreboard before handing it over to Caleb Reed to save ‘n seal. In fact his only disappointment with his first NCAA tournament appearance was he couldn't complete the game. Or completely match what USM's sterling starter Todd McInnis did with a complete game.

And yes…Pollorena was really, really looking forward to testing himself against one of the best arms in the South.

"That was pretty much saying it's me against him," he said, adding "I felt like a wimp, I wanted to go nine innings! But he's a great pitcher and I was trying to match him pitch-for-pitch and not let them score."

There was nothing wimpy about Pollorena's outing as he handled the Eagles with poise beyond his college tenure. It was a return to the exciting form he had showed in two crucial SEC starts for wins at Tennessee and Ole Miss, after MSU coaches chose to take their best middle-relief lefty and let him get games going.

After a tough start against LSU, then a painful relief turn in the SEC Tournament against Florida, this was much, much more to Pollorena's liking.

"I was jus trying to keep it low, keep it low. And the wind helped me with a couple of misses. But it was stay below their barrels and get ground ball after ground ball." Or if absolutely necessary a few fly balls out to leftfield which, as Pollorena admitted, were contained more by the wind than the short Georgia Tech walls. Not that he'd been counting on this assistance, though.

"I didn't even know the wind was blowing in until that ball just died," he said, speaking of an off-the-bat rocket by USM righthander Mark Ellis that normally would have cleared all and scored three. It settled safely in the glove of Brent Brownlee instead.

"I was just trying to stay low and with a small park it makes you want to not miss, or get a big miss up high," he said. Pollorena got some unintended aid as well from Southern Miss batters who couldn't lay off his cutter and chopped them to infielders…or in one very key instant lined it right to SS Jonathan Ogden for a momentum-saving double-play.

"Our defense was phenomenal the whole game." By the same token Pollorena welcomed a 1-0 lead before he ever toed the rubber, after the MSU offense got to McInnis for a first-inning run. Just one, to be sure, but… "Especially in a regional game it's a lot of pressure. Once that run got in I felt some load come off. But I knew I had to get a zero in the first inning." He did, with five more to follow.

Coach John Cohen had considered other game-one matchups with McInnis and the Eagles, but after Pollorena's 5.2 scoreless relief innings back on April 5 against this same order the choice was ultimately made for him. So did other factors.

"You can't bunt off him, you can't run against him, he does so many little things well," said Cohen, before pausing. "I don't mean to get ‘punny'!"

Yeah, about that. What might have most opponents not entirely respecting Pollorena is his stature, which is…by the way, what exactly is it? Pollorena is a level-headed guy but the one thing that rubs him wrong is the official listing of 5-6 in MSU's media guide.

"That's a lie! I'm 5-7 and one-half. Every time I see that 5-6…! They say C.T. (Bradford) is taller than me but that's a lie, I'm just as tall as him!"

He's not entirely joking here, because it was his size that limited college options two years ago. Programs like Texas and Miami looked him, ummm, over before telling Pollorena they just did not think he had the size for college pitching. Especially starting. That still galls the Lone Star son of Mexican parents.

"I use that as gas, for determination to show everybody that baseball is not about size. I don't have to carry anybody or tackle somebody, I just have to put the ball where it has to be." And he does that very well. He was probably bound for Troy last summer but Mississippi State went looking late in the recruiting process for another southpaw and found this one almost by chance in the juco playoffs.

"They saw the game via internet and that's when they started talking to me," Pollorena said. And ultimately signing him, because Cohen and Butch Thompson saw something special in this lefty. "He's an athlete on the mound, and he's a great competitor," Cohen said. Oh, and about that ‘putting the ball where it has to be' bit, Pollorena has done that in another field. Another court, rather.

"He played high school basketball," Cohen proudly told the press corps. To which Pollorena nodded. "I was the center." Said in a complete dead-pan voice befitting his well-guarded sense of humor that only the folk who matter get to see most times.

"Our kids just rally around him," said Cohen. "Which is another reason you want him on the mound in a situation like this." For the record, Pollorena said he was the point guard and a passer-first because, well, he lacked three-point range.

"No, I can't shoot. Layups."

Don't think Pollorena is always a stone-face though. Moments after the win he was seen beyond the dugout hugging some fellows and posing for a picture, smiling for all the world to see. With good reason.

"My Dad and younger brother made the trip. It was about twenty hours. I was trying to pitch a good game just for them."

Well, not just for them. Pollorena and Reed threw a very good combined game indeed so Mississippi State could advance to Saturday's 7:00et winners bracket game with the opponent pending. And, hopefully, a nice long early summer run for this cool Texas Bulldog and club.

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