By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
OMAHA, Neb. – It hasn’t been an easy year for Trey Porter.
He had hernia surgery. Then he had an eye infection, and a pulled muscle. Coach John Cohen said that three times this season, Porter was in the starting lineup but couldn’t go because he was vomiting in the locker room. After starting 59 games last year – 50 as the designated hitter – Porter saw his role shrink this season as a senior. Health was one reason, better depth was another.
He started nine games at four different fielding positions last year as a juco transfer, but all 22 of his starts this year have been at DH. After batting .259 with five home runs a year ago, Porter is hitting .255 with one homer this season. He’s seen limited action this postseason, playing in three of MSU’s eight NCAA tournament games – all coming off the bench.
Porter, as you likely know by now, was a hero off the bench in Monday night’s 5-4 comeback win over Indiana in a College World Series winner’s bracket game. His two-run single in the eighth inning broke a 3-3 tie and put MSU (50-18) within one game of the championship series. The Bulldogs play Friday at 2 p.m. versus the winner of Wednesday’s Indiana-Oregon State elimination game.
Porter entered the game in the sixth in place of right-handed hitting Derrick Armstrong, because earlier in the inning Indiana had just pulled left-handed starting pitcher Will Coursen-Carr in favor of righty Ryan Halstead. With the bases loaded and two outs, Porter drove a pitch deep to right field that was caught, and the Hoosiers maintained a 3-2 lead.
When Porter came up again in the eighth, another lefty was on the mound, Brian Korte. MSU had just tied the game and had runners at second and third with two outs. With Porter being a lefty, Cohen could have opted for a right-handed bat, but he liked his chances with Porter.
“I was going to use either him or Sam (Frost) in that situation,” Cohen said – Frost is a lefty, too. “Sam has really been swinging the bat well, but I just felt like Porter had been taking such good swings in BP and just was in a great rhythm. That’s what I’m going off of, is just the rhythm they’re creating in the box and in their preparation, and I thought he had good rhythm.”
Porter got ahead in the count 2-0.
“Usually if I’m seeing a new guy, I’m going to try to take a couple of pitches and see what he has,” Porter said. “It really helps, him throwing a ball the first pitch. I see what his fastball looks like, and then he comes back with another one away.”
He was looking for a 2-0 fastball to drive, but Korte fooled him and got him to chase a slider way outside. Another ball made it 3-1, and Porter was cautiously optimistic he’d get a fastball.
“A 3-1 count, I knew (Adam) Frazier was behind me, so that kind of helped me. They didn’t want to get to Frazier with two outs, bases loaded, and he’s probably going to come through in that situation.”
Frazier, MSU’s leadoff man, has been tearing it up this postseason, batting .417. Porter got the fastball he was looking for, over the outer half of the plate, and smoked it into right-center to score two runs. It was easily the biggest hit of his career.
“I guess when I touched first, I realized the magnitude of how (big) it was,” Porter said.
This MSU team has been defined by players willing to play whatever role is required of them, and Porter embodies that, according to Cohen. Even when he wasn’t able to play, Porter was still tuned in to the games along with the rest of the “Bench Mob,” and he kept working in practice.
“He does what you expect a senior to do, to wait for his turn, and just wants to be part of something special,” Cohen said. “It’s so easy to sit there if you’re the wrong personality and say, hey man, why me? But he’s not that guy. He’s selfless, he wants our team to win, and that’s the great thing about this club.”
Porter isn’t completely healthy, as he still battles that eye infection. So that has made it difficult for Cohen to know just when he can use Porter. Obviously, he made the right call Monday.
“It’s been difficult, but nobody’s worked harder than that young man, and he deserves to have these types of moments.”