In that much-needed victory Bradford drove in three runs including the game-winner with his eleventh-inning single. Somehow in all the post-win fuss, "I completely forgot what I hit," he said. This lapse from a usually-sharp observer of all aspects to the game is excused of course. Besides, Bradford was due some celebrating, having now heated back up with the bat.
"It felt good. I've worked hard this season, it hasn't always gone the way I wanted it to go."
That is a fact. Bradford endured a three-or-so-week period just plain struggling against both SEC and non-conference pitching. Over a particular twelve-game course he was 8-of-52, which dragged his season average down and in-turn impacted the entire offense since he was the two-hole hitter. Maybe with some swingers this could be written-off as a simple slump.
Not with Bradford. His plate-prowess is too well-known for that sort of stretch. So everybody went to work finding fixes. Bradford picked up one clue himself.
"I felt like my front foot was coming down real hard. We talked about that, me and Coach Cohen. So we try to keep it on the ground to get a trigger out of that. And then me and Coach Mingione talked in the hotel one night about how to go about it, we figured on starting a little early and keeping my toe on the ground so my head wouldn't move as much."
This was on a road trip to Texas A&M, and in game-two the fixes began paying off. Instead of lifting easy fly balls Bradford got back to direct contact and the drives fell. At the same time, he said, "I started evaluating pitches a lot better, spitting on breaking balls and hitting the pitch I wanted to hit."
Sure enough his statistical stock swung back in the right direction. Since that Saturday in College Station the junior is 19-of-48, or .396. He takes a season average of .296 to this weekend's showdown series with Ole Miss.
"The last three weeks he's been rolling, swinging it good and hitting a bunch of line-drives," Coach John Cohen said. "He made an adjustment with Coach Mingione and his Dad was in there working with him too." As this is former Diamond Dog Mike Bradford, a third baseman for the 1982-83 teams, such outside advice is welcomed.
Some things though must be done the harder way. Like the long recovery from Bradford's 2012 shoulder injury. It is easy to forget now that a year ago this time Mississippi State's starting centerfielder was sidelined. He'd tried to battle back from the March injury with mixed results, then an outfield collision in game-two against Ole Miss finished it. He had surgery and was wearing a sling during the NCAA Regional. The recovery also cost him an entire off-season's worth of swings.
"I had to kind of contain myself. I wanted to do a lot of things faster than I was ready to do. But it's something that you have to work every day, and when you get done with that rehab you go do more at night. It's just hard work, really."
"I missed probably 100 at-bats I'd say out of the games I didn't get to play last year and then this summer. But I took it one step at a time and really worked hard this fall, and tried to get right just so I could play this season this way."
It was worth the wait and work. In fact Bradford is as good as ever, maybe better here in the junior season. His only frustration at the moment is not having chances to apply his other skill, that of left-handed relief pitching. Bradford has made seven short appearances this season but none in a month.
This doesn't mean he isn't ready. He certainly gets ready a lot; it is a familiar sight now when around the sixth or seventh Bradford jogs to the Bulldog bullpen for some quick tosses, just in case. "A lot of times when we get a third out on defense I'll just go straight from the outfield to the bullpen. It's like a fine line. I know I can get ready in seven pitches, and then just being able to come in and throw strikes. It's being able to be 80%, throw seven pitches, and be ready."
That Bradford hasn't actually pitched lately is no comment on his talents. The emergence of Chad Girodo in late-left-relief has eaten up the opportunities and Bradford begrudges the senior's service not a bit. Cohen has faith as well when and if such a situation arises.
"He's so easy in his delivery, he's a guy that can get 88, 90 miles an hour and his slider is a really good pitch. And it's such an easy delivery, that means he's going to be able to command the baseball." Plus, having done that assignment Bradford can immediately return to center—typically taken in the interim by Luis Pollorena—and not miss an at-bat.
"It is different mentally but I like it," Bradford said. "I'd planned on doing it a whole lot more this year. I think I will, it's something I enjoy."
Running down fly balls is fun stuff too, and it speaks much of Bradford's skills and consistency that he can push a premium talent like Hunter Renfroe over to rightfield. Still it is at the bat where Bradford changes games quickest. He presents Cohen an interesting challenge, as in where to slot the now-hot swinger. The slump pushed Bradford down to sixth in the order, where he's been able to produce while protecting 1B Wes Rea in the process. But when 2B Brett Pirtle was sidelined a game last weekend, it was Bradford assigned to swing cleanup behind Renfroe.
So maybe some moves are in store this or next weekend or into post-season play, as long as Bradford stays steady. It won't be for lack of attention to details.
"The key is we have so much video at our place, it's finding those little things that you maybe mistakenly messed-up or changed a little bit and get back on that. But once you get in the game you kind of let it go and let all the hard work pay off."
Whatever and wherever, the lineups and orders have more to work with than at any point in the junior's career. "It's way more complete. I feel we've done an awesome job of getting in tons of talent. And that's top-to-bottom, just like this past weekend we plug guys in and get base hits and score runs and get RBI. The whole lineup, you feel if you make the third out you'll get to hit in the next two innings. That's a great feeling. I got six at-bats, obviously we went extra-innings, but it was great."
Sweeping Alabama was a great boost to Bulldog stock too. Now comes a much stiffer challenge, and at the arch-rivals' address. Bradford said the squad needs to remember how they rebounded from being swept at Vanderbilt to turning-tables the next time-out.
"It was awesome, a team job. Everyone, you'd never known we got swept. It was a great week of preparation and this week we have to do the same thing. Get ready to play, show up, and play as hard as we can."