"The Ranger have my rights right now and I guess I'll get offered in the morning," said Berkery minutes after State's 8-6 loss to Clemson. "I'll see what they want to do and if I like it I'll take it; if not I'll go back in the draft Tuesday." Texas keeps those rights until midnight (CT).
Berkery was drafted by Texas in the 46th round last June, and decided to come back to college for one more season. As season in which he got to start at his fourth different infield position. He was the starting second baseman in 2003, the primary third baseman in '04, and the primary catcher last year. The best thing about his senior season was his offense; though he went 5-for-19 in the Clemson Regional, he still ended the year with a SEC-leading average of .383. Barring a miraculous run by Alabama's Emeel Salem the rest of this tournament, Berkery should become the first Bulldog to lead the SEC in batting since Rafael Palmeiro in 1984.
Whether or not this helps his professional case remains to be seen. "I don't care, I just want a shot. I'm a senior, the money is not going to be what it was last year but I'm going to get paid to play baseball so I can't argue at all." Plus, he is engaged with a November wedding in the works. So all he wants is a chance to swing at another level…well, that and a bit of sleep since his last college game didn't end until 12:31 a.m. He hopes the Rangers are patient with the phone call.
"About ten (a.m.) will right!" he said. That's cutting it close because the team bus was scheduled to pull out for Starkville at 10:30 ET.
LET'S PLAY TWO: Asked after State survived the elimination game with Elon if he'd prefer the Clemson game be delayed to Monday by weather, Polk said it was probably best to go ahead and get back on the field. And indeed despite rain and lightning and a two-hour delay, the Dogs stayed at the park.
"I don't think we're tired," said Polk. "Sometimes I think it's better playing the second game, unless you're a catcher, because you've been in a game, you've swung the bat. Some people might disagree but I think it's sometimes to your advantage to go out and play the second game rather than be watching in the stands or waiting all day to play a 7:00 (Monday) ball game. Maybe we can take an advantage, but I'm not sure if it is (an advantage) or not."
As it turned out there was no advantage with a 8-6 loss to Clemson. But nobody looked all that tired either, unless it was catcher McCaskill. He let one called pitchout go off his mitt, and Clemson stole safely four times.
IN THE CLUTCH: The dozen runs and 17 hits were not post-season records by any MSU-means. And they were not close to the best offensive efforts of the 2006 season. But Polk took particular pride in how his batters swatted the ball in ‘timely' situations. "We probably had more two-out hits than we had the whole second half of the season," he said.
While an exaggeration the coach had a point. State hit safely nine times after two were out in an inning. Only seven of those really mattered, though, coming in the first four innings. And those knocks produced runs, as five of the first six State scores came with two outs and eight for the entire game. And all of them were either ground balls or short knocks that fell safely. "We found some holes," Polk said.
DH Brian LaNinfa's two-run mash in the fourth inning was the biggest single blow of the game, but it came with no outs.
LaNinfa also had a chance to earn a place in MSU post-season records as in the second and third games combined he had nine RBI. He failed to drive in anyone in either the opening-round loss to Elon, or the final game with Clemson though in that one he hit safely once and scored twice. The MSU record for post-season series RBI is 10, shared by Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, and John McDonald. The latter, a catcher on the 1979 team, did his in a four-team regional while Clark and Palmeiro go their ribbies in the six-team 1984 Regional. And all did it at home.
The post-season game RBI record is held by Richard Lee. He drove in eight teammates in the 1996 Stanford Regional against Cal State Northridge at Stanford. State still lost that game 20-19, and Lee didn't get a RBI in the other two games.
WANNA GO AGAIN? Justin Pigott spent all Friday night and Saturday morning expecting to start game-two with UNC Asheville, only to find himself tossing 1.2 innings to close out a 5-4 victory. While it was a change of plan, the role was still a familiar one for the sophomore lefthander. Pigott's first 13 appearances of this season were out of the bullpen and usually in late-relief. As a reliever he was 4-0 with one save and nine non-decisions.
Still it was in that setting that Pigott impressed his coaches sufficiently that he became a starter for the last four SEC series, three times as the game-two opener. And he was a good one, putting in 32.1 innings with wins over Florida and Mississippi and a tough loss to Kentucky where he only allowed three runs, all on homers in a small park.
State certainly showed great faith in putting Pigott on the mound in a must-win game after he'd worked the evening before in a save-or-lose situation. "He's not a big kid so we were a little concerned," Polk said. "But he's alright." Because, as the coaches have noted, Pigott is a quick ‘recovery' guy.
"He's had a great season," Polk said. "He was in the bullpen early and I made a starter out of him because we weren't getting the job done." And Pigott has been so consistently reliable in either role that the coach quipped Sunday afternoon "We may need him tomorrow so he's going to have to get ready!" At which Pigott, who'd thrown around 150 pitches over the two days, could only shake his head. Still Polk has a point due to some late-season injuries in the relief staff.
"We lost two guys, Mike Valentine and Matt Lea, our pitching situation is not in great shape," Polk said. "It's not easy to play a tournament like this when pitchers like them aren't available. So you need what a guy like Justin gave us."
S-E-C, S-E-C: By surviving two loser's bracket games, Mississippi State became the seventh SEC team to reach at least the championship rounds of a Regional. Arkansas was the only league team of eight in the field that did not get that far.
Also, State has now played in 29 NCAA post-season tournaments (either Districts or the various formats of first-round Regionals). Bulldog teams have finished either first or second in 17 of these. And only once, in 1993, has State failed to win at least one game in postseason play.
ONE FOR THE BOOKS: It came in a losing cause, but when Jesse Carver rolled a 6-4-3 double play to end the Clemson eighth inning it earned a piece of program history. It was the 69th double-play of State's season, tying the record set by the 1997 team. That squad took 68 games to pile up as many twin-killings as the 2006 team did in 60. State produced three double-plays in the weekend.
WHERE THERE'S SMOKE THERE'S FIRED: While Ron Polk was preparing to play a game to keep the 2006 season going, he heard the news that one of his SEC peers had lost his job. Sunday morning, LSU Coach Smoke Laval was fired though the later announcements called it a ‘resignation' or ‘retirement.'
"The third base umpire told me," Polk said. "He just said did you hear Smoke retired? Then I confirmed it with Larry (Templeton). I feel bad. I mean, Skip Bertmann, LSU A.D.) is probably one of my closest friends and I love Smoke." Laval, a former LSU aide, assumed the job when his boss retired.
But State's skipper nor any media familiar with the SEC or for that matter college baseball seemed surprised by the news. Once the Tigers failed to receive a NCAA bid, for the first time since 1988, Laval's status was a topic of increased discussion. In his five seasons LSU was 210-109.
There was certainly a measure of irony for Polk and Templeton, too. Because the popular perception is that State, which did not make the SEC Tournament after finishing a half-game behind LSU, ‘took' the berth that the Tigers would have gotten. State won the regular-season series between the two SEC West rivals. Templeton is chair of the NCAA baseball committee, fueling the speculative fires in Baton Rouge.
Polk isn't bothered by any such controversy, but having a comrade released isn't part of the game he likes. "I hate to see coaches lose their jobs. Good decision, bad decision, that's not for me to say." LSU isn't the only high-profile program with a change at the top as Mike Gillespie has stepped down at Southern Cal. The Trojans didn't make the NCAAs this year either, finishing under .500. "I hope it was his decision. He's getting up in years too, like I and a lot of other coaches." That was an interesting comment from the 62-year-old Polk.
"I always want coaches to go out on their own terms," he added. "Coaching is tough enough. I just hate to see Smoke Laval retire. ‘Retire' is a term everybody uses now, I don't know why they just can't be honest about it."
Which an even more interesting comment, because during the 1997 season Polk himself retired from coaching State effective the end of the campaign…which happened to come in Omaha that year. Yet two years later he un-retired to coach Georgia two years, taking his 2001 team to the College World Series, before being lured back to Starkville on short notice in June.