“Yeah, you look at our team and we’re playing with really 20, 23 something like that,” Mississippi State’s catcher said. “When we were younger we had ten guys and just rotated and played.”
Well, as Coach Andy Cannizaro often proclaims this is supposed to be a ‘young team’. So why not take a youthful approach here at the senior college and Southeastern Conference level? In fact Lovelady already sees some of this in, say, how Mississippi State has put two position players into regular use as pitchers.
“That’s what you see back in Little League. It’s awesome, it’s kind of reliving what we were doing back then.”
This ‘back to the future’ kind of attitude appears to be working out well. With every Dog sidelined by an injury, or every shuffle to the squad’s defense and order and pitching schedules, the team keeps winning. Some how and some way they continue to win at a pace that four weekends into conference play has Mississippi State part of a pack leading the league.
This, after injuries and setbacks which ought have the Bulldogs battling to stay clear of the cellar. “But you look at the SEC standings and we’re right there at the top,” Lovelady said. “And we know we can continue to do that.”
Such confidence is needed as Mississippi State (23-12, 8-4) stakes their SEC status in a road series at South Carolina (22-11, 7-5). Game times in Columbia are 6:00, 3:00, and 3:00ct with Sunday’s finale on the SEC Network. The other games are on-line only.
For senior backstop Lovelady this ’17 season has been quite a story in itself. A comeback story, since he had to miss all but four games in 2016 with a knee injury and surgery. He’s back and established first in the catching rotation having started 35 games and ten of the SEC contests.
The .258 batting average could be better of course. Lovelady knows his value is more directing the defense. Oh, and coming through with the occasional clutch contact. Such as at Ole Miss. There he drove in a key RBI on two days from his slot in the order’s latter half.
“Guys in scoring positions with two outs, and you’re asked to drive them in. Obviously every time you’re not going to. But to get that chance to get hat pitch out over the plate and make a good swing on it, it’s a big deal for me.”
The bigger deal is daily handling this pitching staff. Not that he has a long list of moundsmen to work with of course. That’s the real mid-season story at Mississippi State as a limited staff scrambles through starts and stints and gets things done by sitting batters down.
In this, the catcher has something to say as pitching coach Gary Henderson breaks down games by inning. Or just by batter. “Coach Cannizaro and Coach Henderson trust me. I come back in the dugout and they’re like how’s this guy’s stuff? Where is he? Is he done, can he keep going? And I’m really honest with the that this guy can keep going or he’s done.
“It’s more them obviously. But every little info I can give them helps. Because I can see first hand, I’m squatting right down there and seeing every pitch.”
Lovelady also serves as on-field counselor, since coaches can’t make many treks to the mound. Lovelady can, and does. The trick is how to handle every different moundsman and mentality. “Let’s say we have a young kid. I come out and say you’ve got the eighth inning, pitch this inning like it’s the last inning you’re ever going to pitch.
“But my whole thing is knowing who is on the mound and what I can say to them. I can say different stuff to different guys and mainly it’s just helping these guys grow. Because we’ve only got nine or ten guys every weekend and we need the best we can out of them.”
This applies to the entire (available) roster, really. Cannizaro doesn’t have the same options for fielding and pinch-hitting or -running as his SEC peers. The handful of older Dogs can’t do anything to get teammates healthy.
They can get them in the right frame of Mississippi State mind for each challenge.
“We tell the younger guys hey, just come out every day and give it your best, and you never know what’s going to happen,” Lovelady said. “Just like we’ve been doing the last few weeks.”
Or, just like everyone did in Little League.