Emergency option works well for MSU

Hunter Stovall started 20 games as a freshman at Mississippi State including four key starts at catcher. (Mississippi State)

Hunter Stovall started 20 games as a freshman at Mississippi State including four key starts at catcher. (Mississippi State)

Hunter Stovall spent much of his senior year at Pelham High School behind the plate and was named the 2015 Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year.

But when Stovall arrived at Mississippi State for his freshman season he was primarily expected to play second base and would only be a fourth option at catcher to be used in an emergency situation.

That scenario transpired early on as Jack Kruger was unable to catch while recovering from a shoulder injury and Josh Lovelady suffered a season-ending knee injury on the second weekend.

“They told me in the catching position that if all our guys go down, you’re in,” Stovall said. “That ended up happening. You’ve just always got to be ready for an opportunity when it comes.”

Stovall ended up serving as the Bulldogs’ backstop in eight games including four starts. The rest of the time the 5-foot-7, 155-pounder played second base, where he made 16 more starts and finished his freshman campaign playing in 35 contests.

“I started catching my freshman year of high school but other than that I played shortstop,” Stovall said. “Infield has always been kind of my natural position in a sense so there wasn’t really a big transformation.”

Stovall batted .241 on the year with five doubles, 14 RBIs and was a perfect 6-for-6 on stolen base attempts. He rose to the occasion in his first collegiate at bat in the season opener against Florida Atlantic. After entering the game as a defensive replacement, he ripped an RBI single into center field to score Reid Humphreys in the bottom of the ninth inning.

“I tried to calm my nerves down and stay as relaxed as possible because I knew that was an intense situation,” Stovall said. “It was my first college at bat and I was really just trying to get in there and make contact with the ball and it ended up going my way.”

Things were not always full of sunshine during Stovall’s first year in Starkville. He fractured his left tibia and stretched ligaments in his knee on April 28 at Alabama and kept him out of action until May 26 in the SEC Tournament.

“It was a slow process but it did happen a lot faster than I or anybody else thought,” Stovall said.

Stovall was a three-time All-American in high school and batted .359 or higher all four years at the Class 6A level. As a senior, he hit a career-best .461 with 10 home runs, 57 RBIs and 28 steals to go along with a .582 on-base percentage.

Colleges such as Auburn, Alabama, South Carolina and Florida State came knocking but there was something about the staff and the environment at MSU that Stovall could not pass up.

“When I came to Mississippi State, the coaches blew me away in the recruiting process,” Stovall said. “The atmosphere and the way that this is a baseball school, even in a midweek game we will have a ton of people in the stands, and I don’t think you’ll see there anywhere else.”

Although he was a highly touted recruit, Stovall realized in the fall that it would take something extra for him to see the field in his first spring as a freshman.

“I’m just another player here,” Stovall said. “You have to find ways to standout amongst all these guys because they’re all as good or better than you. That’s what’s stood out to me is I’ve got to work my butt off more than anybody to stand out in other ways and do everything I can do to get on the field. You just have to outwork them.”

Stovall is spending his summer playing for the Santa Barbara Forresters in the California Collegiate League. Through 16 games, he is hitting .364 with three doubles, one homer, eight RBIs and a pair of steals.

I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.

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