Mississippi State established itself with a freshman catcher, Gavin Collins, behind the plate in 2014.
Collins caught 42 games and was the Diamond Dogs leading returning hitter entering this past spring.
However, that did not stop Josh Lovelady from signing with MSU and coming in to compete with the Preseason All-SEC selection for playing time.
It was a gamble that paid off for Lovelady, who was the Bulldogs starting backstop on opening day. Collins underwent offseason surgery on his left hand which kept Lovelady in the lineup during the first month of the season.
“It was a great opportunity,” Lovelady said. “Gavin went down and somebody had to step up. I felt like I did pretty good with that to start out and it went well. It helps to have these coaches that trust you and will help you. The biggest thing was to get comfortable and into the swing of things.”
Lovelady went 1-for-3 with a walk and a run batted in during his opening day start against Cincinnati. He laced an RBI single to left in his first plate appearance at MSU.
“There were some nerves but once I caught the first pitch I was good,” Lovelady said. “It’s a great atmosphere. It’s crazy how many people come out and support us here. There’s a great thing going on here. When you have that many people supporting you it makes it easy to play and have fun.”
The 6-foot, 205-pounder from Prattville, Ala., went on to start 20 of the 24 games he appeared in for the Diamond Dogs this spring. He hit .222 with a double and 11 RBI in his first season after transferring in from Shelton State (Ala.) Community College.
“The game is a lot faster here,” Lovelady said. “We saw a few arms that were SEC arms in junior college but here it’s every weekend. You have to be prepared. The biggest thing for me was to slow the game down. I tried to let the game come to me and not rush anything.”
There was a time during his sophomore season at Shelton State that Lovelady thought his career on the diamond was done. On March 8, 2014, he was struck in the jaw by a fastball during the sixth inning an at bat against Wallace-Hanceville.
The pitch shattered his jaw and dislodged several of Lovelady’s lower teeth. He had to undergo surgery to wire his mouth shut and could not eat solid food for six weeks.
“There were times that were really tough and you’d think this is it, not knowing if you’re going to ever play again” Lovelady said. “But you just have to get comfortable again. The game is so mental and there was a point where I doubted myself. But I kicked it into gear and said I was going to finish what I started.”
Just a week after the incident, Lovelady was back in the batter’s box and behind the plate. He finished his sophomore year as an academic All-American and was named the program’s first ever captain.
Lovelady received several scholarship offers out of junior college including one from Alabama but decided that MSU was the home he was looking for.
“I knew once Mississippi State offered that this is where I wanted to be,” Lovelady said. “I just felt at home here. Everybody was so welcoming. The coaches were great and the players welcomed me right in. I knew on my visit that this is where I needed to be.”
Lovelady is spending his summer in New York playing for the Elmira Pioneers of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. Through 13 games, he is fourth on the team with a .308 batting average with four RBI and two stolen bases.