Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Bulldog Cornerman 4-for-4 in SEC Tourney Opener, Slugs 10th Homer of Season

HOOVER – He could have had a better day with the glove. He could not have had much better of an evening with the bat.

Gavin Collins became big Dog at the dish Wednesday, going 4-for-4 and powering Mississippi State past Alabama at the SEC Tournament. The ‘powering’ was literal as Collins slugged a solo home run in the fourth inning to highlight the performance.

“I took some good swings, and happened to find the barrel,” Collins said.

‘Happened’? Well, this has been ‘happening’ a lot for the junior third baseman. Collins ended the regular season on a 17-game hitting streak, and had reached base in 20-straight games.

At Hoover, he didn’t just pick up where he’d left off. Collins got even better. He posted his first four-hit effort since 2014, and had his first perfect plate-day of this season.

In the regular season series Collins had hit Alabama pitching well enough, 5 of 12 at Tuscaloosa. He also had faced Tide starter Geoffrey Bramblett there, and hit a two-run homer off the Tide righthander. Never mind that was four weeks ago, ballplayers have good memories for such things.

“We’d seen Bramblett before and he’s a great pitcher,” Collins said. “But I think we had a great gameplan. And those first three guys before me always have great at-bats and allow me to sit in the dugout and see a lot of pitches.”

Collins certainly saw enough in the first inning to take advantage. With RF Jake Mangum on third base and two outs Collins punched a single through the left side for State’s opening run. Three innings later with the Bulldogs leading 2-0, Collins was leading it off.

And, leaving the ballpark. He went to the left side again, but this was a dead-pull blast that was clearly gone if it stayed fair. It did, barely curving inside the left pole. “I think the wind helped it out,” Collins said, though that same breeze almost pushed it foul.

It was Collins team-best 10th home run of the season. And he wasn’t through hitting either. In the sixth he singled his way on, was bunted along by CF Jacob Robson, and worked to third on a passed ball. DH Brent Rooker let him score the easy way with a clean single.

So if Collins’ last base hit, in the eighth, didn’t amount to much, it did complete his perfect evening with two RBI and two runs scored. It also extended that streak, in which Collins has now batted an even .400 and raised his full-season average over .300.

Alright. The game wasn’t really perfect. Mississippi State was charged with two errors in the win and both were laid to Collins’ account. The first came in Alabama’s second inning and was a tough call as Collins backhanded a grounder on the line and deflected it. No harm came from the ruled error.

The other, yes, it was a clear gaffe as Collins did not get the glove down on a fifth inning ground ball. Again the reaching runner was left stranded, and if that raised Collins’ total to 15 boots on the season…well, his hitting and production have more than offset them.

“You watch his takes and can tell, he’s about to smoke this ball,” Coach John Cohen said. “You can just feel it.” And even with the errors the coach constantly praises the plays this converted catcher does make and will keep making in tournament time.

“I think he’s the most under-rated guy in our lineup,” Cohen said. “He’s one of the most clutch hitters in the SEC.”


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