Pirtle Prepping For Show-And-Go Tourney Time

They don't know lots about the opponent, and the counter-case is just as true. Other than what Gavin Collins can tell about an Aztec friend the scouting must be done by scrounged video, statistics, and word-of-mouth. And unfamiliarity with San Diego State isn't a bit bothersome to Brett Pirtle. "It's practically like doing show-and-go, to use the baseball term."

Right. The Diamond Dog infielder is directly referring to when they are not required to run through the 'active warmup' session prior to games. They can go directly to BP or infield or whatever. But it's actually a fair reflection of Mississippi State mindset for this post-season. Show up at the park and go play ball.

"That's just baseball right there," Pirtle said. "We're good at doing that, just winging it and not really knowing too much about the players or the pitchers."

Now to be clear, what this senior second sacker calls ‘winging it' is not nearly so unstructured as it sounds on surface. Anyone who has seen Coach John Cohen and staff at work grasps just how detail-obsessed Mississippi State's skippers can get. Maybe too much so at times in the regular season, against conference rivals and rosters that are utterly familiar from both recruiting and live games.

But…this is post-season. The time when teams are thrown into matchups on short or no notice. Which is a large part why tournament time is so much fun, per Pirtle.

"Just competing, not thinking about too much what they have or don't have." Pirtle also agrees that last week's SEC Tournament might have been the perfect tune-up for Regional play. At Hoover, the Bulldogs somehow managed to play all four of the conference clubs that they did not see during the regular season. Which would seem almost mathematically impossible come to think of it.

That might not have been an advantage in scouting terms at the time. But it surely had to be good practice for NCAA season where about all Mississippi State knows of San Diego State is their reputation. A good one, too. Then there is the potential matchup with host Louisiana Lafayette along the way, another never-played for current Dogs. Coaches included since the only meeting was way back in March, 1991. Curiously enough, ten days before Pirtle was born.

Here in 2014 the native Texan has grown into a first-class college ballplayer, and after just two seasons at Mississippi State arguably one of the two or three best to play his position. This week he was named second-team All-SEC at second base, and to the All-Defense team as well. That latter honor was duplicated by shortstop Seth Heck as they make up maybe the finest middle-infield pairing in the conference if not country.

The attention and recognition is great, Pirtle said. But, "That's just what we expect out of ourselves. We expect to make every play and expect to make all the double-plays for our pitchers. We expect to do all those things just because we know we can do it and we try to stay confident in ourselves."

Expected or not, there is still just something special how Heck and Pirtle work together and in-tandem too (or three) with third baseman Matthew Britton. With, again the great big soothing security of Wes Rea to pick their relays at first base. Though to give further credit, when put on that bag Alex Detz has handled things just fine too. The point is, Mississippi State has as competent and consistent a defensive infield in 2014 as any time in program history. And that is saying something.

Of course they'd better be a good gang with the gloves, Pirtle reminded. They are scattered around behind a pitching staff which specializes in giving the infielders all the chances they can literally handle. Busy yes, but never boring.

"As an infielder you want as many grounders as you can get. That just shows that the pitchers are doing what they've got to do, so we have to help them out too. Plus it's fun, you can just be aggressive and knowing you're going to get one earlier."

Defense is a whole-team affair. Hitting? That is one man with a bat against another with a ball and let the best win. Usually. This senior year Pirtle has won his share, with a .341 average. That's up from .310 as a junior transfer when a second sacker somehow found himself hitting fourth in the order. The tale was well-told all through last May and June when the game's least-likely ‘cleanup' man proved plenty productive, albeit with just two home runs.

State tried to move him out of the four-slot early this season before putting Pirtle back there mid-schedule. Pirtle said at the time it was just a matter of finding somebody to swing the stick, not take too many balls but move the runners. Since then though he's slid up to third in the usual order…which ironically in half the games has made Heck the ‘cleanup' Dog, and that is an even more unusual slotting than Pirtle's case!

Regardless of when he gets into the box, "I don't change my approach when there is or isn't someone on base. I just stick to me." Well that, and as a switch-hitter of course, which is another obvious reason to bat Pirtle third at the latest. And give him as many opportunities to match up with as many pitchers as possible.

Switching slots or sides hasn't affected his efficiency. Fans might be surprised to find Pirtle's average is just ten points behind former shortstop partner Adam Frazier's 2013 team-leading pace. Or fewer behind what Hunter Renfroe hit last year. And what makes his .341 more impressive, is he doesn't have that sort of ‘protection' in the order. Yet he keeps making good contact on tough pitches.

"This year compared to last year, for the whole season just more consistent. Not doing stuff I shouldn't be doing like hitting home runs, stuff like that. So just sticking to my approach more than last year, because the first season I didn't really do that. I focus on being more consistent at-bats and I think that's what has helped."

Umm, need we remind that Pirtle did hit a home run last week, to blow open the South Carolina game? It as a no-doubter into the Hoover Met rightfield bullpen, easily Pirtle's biggest fly of his two-season career. "Yeah, at the least likely time too! That's just baseball for you."

But this time of the calendar is no longer ‘just baseball'. Each weekend can be the last of the season, or in Pirtle's case college career. Some would call it pressure.

He still thinks it's great. No, "It's awesome. Just because you get to play for something bigger than yourself. There's some teams that just win the last series of their season and really weren't playing for anything other than maybe a tournament for their conference. Knowing we're going to the post-season shows it's a chance to do something bigger than ourselves."

Mississippi State certainly has both the big opportunity and big challenge at Lafayette. Never mind being sited at the #6 national seed. There is an Aztec team awaiting, fresh off their impressive Mountain West tournament title and used to winning. Anything other info, the Bulldogs have to dig-up in the remaining hours ahead of Friday's 1:00 start time.

In this case though un-familiarity just breeds…confidence? "We're just competing," Pirtle said. "I think it's going to be an advantage for us because we're pretty good at showing-and-going."

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