By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
ATLANTA – Luis Pollorena has been told he doesn’t measure up on the big-time college baseball scene. Given the chance Friday, he proved otherwise.
The 5-foot-6, 165-pounder from Laredo, Texas, stood tall on the mound in Mississippi State’s NCAA Regional opener, hurling six shutout innings as the Bulldogs beat Southern Miss, 3-0, in front of 1,303 at Russ Chandler Stadium.
It’s the second time this season Pollorena (7-5) has defeated the Golden Eagles (39-18). In Pearl on April 5, he got the win with 52/3 innings of scoreless relief.
“Every pitch is below the knees, and if he left one up, we really didn’t make him pay for it,” Southern Miss first baseman B.A. Vollmuth said. “He’s a pretty good pitcher, and he’s gotten us twice now.”
Coming out of high school, Pollorena was overlooked by big schools. He said Miami and Texas both told him that his body wouldn’t hold up over the course of a season.
“I used that as gas and determination to show everybody,” the sophomore left-hander said. “Baseball is not a game of size. I don’t have to carry anybody or tackle somebody. I’ve just got to put the ball where it has to be and let the defense work.”
MSU’s defense did plenty of solid work behind him, and that was a big reason USM left 10 men on base and went 1 of 7 with runners in scoring position. Shortstop Jonathan Ogden made a diving stop and throwout from deep in the hole in the second inning, and he started an inning-ending double play in the fifth by catching a Tyler Koelling line drive.
Brent Brownlee, who entered the game in the fourth, was quickly tested when Mark Ellis lifted a ball toward left-center with two men on. Brownlee tracked it down to end the threat.
“We believe there’s a strong correlation between great defense and early contact,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “We got early swings, and when that happens, you’re going to play much better defense.”
MSU didn’t play like a team that hadn’t been in a regional in four years, doing all those little things Cohen harps on daily. This is a win that could pay bigger dividends down the line.
“We’ve got a whole lot of freshmen who are sitting there watching what’s going on. And everything they get to experience because of these older guys is just huge,” Cohen said. “That’s how you build, that’s how you move it forward.”
Brownlee’s big hit
Brownlee also came up big on offense.
Trey Johnson, a left-handed hitter, started the game in left field because USM starter Todd McInnis is right-handed. But after Johnson struck out his first two at-bats, Cohen subbed in Brownlee.
In the sixth, with MSU (35-23) holding a 1-0 lead, the junior from Oxford laced a hanging slider past McInnis and a drawn-in infield for a two-run single.
“Good hitters are supposed to take advantage of those mistakes, and every mistake I made they hit the ball pretty well,” said McInnis (8-3), who allowed seven hits and struck out six in a complete-game effort.
McInnis settled in after that, retiring the final 10 batters he faced. But USM’s offense couldn’t get going, and Caleb Reed worked the final three innings for his 12th save. He allowed three hits and struck out the side in the ninth.
The Golden Eagles are a team that once had designs on hosting a regional, but they’ve fallen into a swoon with seven losses in their last nine games. They’ve gone 25 consecutive innings without scoring.
Coach Scott Berry was at a loss to explain the struggles.
“This is the time of year where people really start swinging it, and we haven’t here late in the year,” Berry said. “I don’t really know what the reason is for that.”
State didn’t enter the regional playing its best ball, either, but good pitching can cure many ails. Cohen said Pollorena had a strong week of preparation, and Pollorena had some last-minute instructions for his shortstop, Ogden.
“Me and Oggie actually had a talk before, I was like, ‘You better catch every ground ball you get.’ He started laughing.”