Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

MSU baseball play by play announcer Jim Ellis talks 1979, 1989 and 2016 teams

Jim Ellis has been doing play by play for Mississippi State baseball since the 1979 season. He has seen the three teams (1979, 1989 and 2016) that have won outright Southeastern Conference championships during the regular season. Gene's Page sat down with Jim to talk about each of those three teams.

You have called play by play since 1979 and have seen the three teams that have won outright SEC Baseball titles. What do you remember about the 1979 team?
"The team before had gone to the regionals in 1978 and they had lost a bunch of guys off that ballclub that were really good players. I remember when I got here Coach (Ron) Polk said 'we won't be as good this year. You are coming at a bad time. We don't have the same personnel that we had last year but I think we will be competitive.' He really down played his ballclub before the season. He had lost players like Jack Lazorka who was really good, Russ Aldrich who was also really good. But the thing that he did have was a nice nucleus, some who were in backup roles and had done a good job.

"The centerpiece of the ballclub was Mike Kelley (batted .400, stole 27 bases), the centerfielder, a little guy who just really hit the ball on the ground and ran. He made All-American that year. Bobby Kocol (.366, 8 HRs, 65 RBI) was our right fielder and the co-captain of the ballclub. He was really solid. John McDonald (.352, 2, 45) was our catcher and had a nice career behind the plate. Boyd Conner (.285, 1, 45) was the shortstop. He was a junior college kid from Arizona. He was on the team the year before but hadn't play much. Pete Torres (.270, 2, 27) was at third base. He was another junior college player who was from Florida. Tim Weishem (.284, 2, 47) was the first baseman who had a great year. He hadn't played much the year before. He was a junior college transfer who was a backup. But he had a great senior year. Larry Pavlou (.333, 5, 39) was another player on the team that had a good season. Rick Dixon (.319, 8, 49) hit the three-run home run in the tournament (that allowed MSU to defeat Florida 12-11 for the conference championship). We had young pitchers like Don Mundie (W-L 10-1, 3.87 ERA). Josh Reagan (8-0, 3.83) was on that ballclub. Of course, Kenny Kurtz (12-2, 2.09 was on the team. He was a junior college pitcher who had a great season that year and only played one year. All of those guys really meshed together and won a lot of games. I think they only lost two league games during the season (They were 20-2 during the season-Editor's Note). Most of the guys were seniors. So it was a veteran team.

"The (NCAA) regional that year was unbelievable. We lost the first game. We were beaten by New Orleans in the first game. We had to fight our way through the loser's bracket. We had to beat Murray State twice to win the championship. We really hit the ball well the rest of the tournament and outhit the other clubs. We got to the College World Series and caught Cal State Fullerton in the first game. Many people thought they were one of the better teams there and Kenny Kurtz beat them in the first game. Then, they did exactly what we did in the regional. They came back through the loser's bracket. That was when they played the eight-team double elimination bracket. There weren't two brackets. You had to win six games when you came through the loser's bracket and that is what Cal State Fullerton did.

"But that (Mississippi State) team was a great team, an interesting ballclub to be around. It was a great introduction (for me) to Mississippi State baseball."

The next team was 1989. That is likely one of the most talented teams in Mississippi State baseball history.
"It was. It was a really good ballclub. You had Pete Young (Batting Average .319, 11 Home Runs, 65 RBI) at third base. Brad Hildreth (.340, 6, 55) was an outstanding shortstop. Burke Masters (.333, 4, 38) was an outstanding second baseman. Richie Grayum (.276, 12, 58) played left and DH'ed. Jody Hurst (.313, 13, 56), who I think was one of the best center fielders to ever play at State, was a great defender and a really good hitter. Obviously, Tommy Raffo (.383, 22, 80) was a centerpiece of it. Jon Shave (.357, 1, 26) was also on that team. And John Cohen (.279, 8, 45) was on it, too. He was a really good ballplayer. Behind the plate was Barry Winford (.337, 4, 50), a really good catcher. Bobby Reed (W-L 12-3, 3.71 ERA) was an outstanding pitcher. It was a good ballclub. You would have liked it to be a little deeper in pitching.

"I think that (shortage of pitching) is what got us (in the NCAA regional). We ended up having to play a double-header on Sunday. We had to beat North Carolina twice after we got in the loser's bracket. We won the first game, then had to come back and play the second game that night. We ended up starting Pete Young (W-L 5-1, 8 Saves, 1.22 ERA) in that final game, and he wasn't a starting pitcher. And they had a pitcher who came in and shut us down. It was a tough day for that team. I think the most disappointed was Ron Polk because he thought that ballclub could have won a national championship. I remember after the (College) World Series that year he said if we could have gotten to Omaha we could have won it."

This year's team is the latest to win the Southeastern Conference Championship. What are your thoughts about it? How does the talent on this year's team compare to those other two teams?
"I think this team is a good ballclub. They have had a really nice year. But I wouldn't want to compare talent because I don't know what some of the talent is going to do over a three or four-year career. If I looked at the entire field I think I could find somebody who played that position better on another team. But as a group, this is a deep group. It is a talented group. I don't know if we have ever had more depth on a pitching staff than we have on this ballclub. This team does a lot of things well.

"It will be interesting to see how this team plays in the post-season. Some of the clubs that we remember the most were at their best in the post-season. What you do in post-season is what everybody remembers. Look at the 2007 ballclub. They had a great post-season. Look at the 2013 ballclub. They played their best baseball during post-season. They played for the national championship. I think how you judge a ballclub is how well they preform in the post-season. Now we will see how well this year's ballclub plays in the post-season."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on sports network.

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