FILE - 59 miles from where he grew up, Mississippi State University second baseman Matthew Britton was celebrating Friday his game-winning RBI-single to right-center to give the Bulldogs a 4-3 victory over LSU in the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. Photo by: MSU athletics
May 26, 2012 8:06:23 AM
HOOVER, Ala. - After nearly every practice, batting practice session, workout and game, Mississippi State University coach John Cohen says these words to the media.
"We just think Matthew Britton is going to be a special player for us one day soon."
After the freshman from Cullman, Ala., was moved out of the shortstop role earlier in the season, hit .149 in the regular season and had eight RBIs in 115 at-bats, everybody on the other end of that conversation began to at the very least have skepticism about what the MSU fourth-year coach John Cohen was talking about.
Because Matthew Britton himself was starting to wonder if a turnaround was possible without seeing evidence to that belief in games.
"Earlier in the year, you really let not hitting and that s-word (slump) get in your head and it just spreads through everything you do like a disease," Britton said. "It messes with your mind."
Britton nearly had that mental breakdown happen again during his at-bat in the 10th inning with a chance to win the game with a base hit. After the numerous ninth-inning changes in the game by MSU, both head coach and home plate umpire were a bit confused as to whether the Bulldogs had the correct batting lineup in the bottom of the 10th frame. After two balls on curveball, Britton had more time to stand by himself in front of 9,067 people at Regions Park and think about what he admitted was "the most nerve wracking at-bat of my baseball career so far" while everybody at home plate figured out MSU indeed had the correct lineup.
"That's the last thing I wanted to have happen I promise you," Britton said. "I remembered looking in the dugout and thinking 'they told me I was batting in Wes' (Rea) spot right? I was ready to get back in the box and look for my fastball."
In front of his parents, brother and Cullman (Ala.) High School head coach, Britton got his fastball and dumped the pitch into short right-centerfield for the game-winning hit in the Bulldogs dramatic 4-3 victory over No. 2 LSU.
""He threw me five straight curveballs so I was thinking fastball the whole time," Britton said. "He threw it and I got the bat to it. Right when I saw (LSU second baseman Jacoby Jones) dive, my stomach kind of dropped because I thought that he caught it. I just kept running till I saw that the ball got past him. I was pretty happy about that."
Britton was immediately at the bottom of a 27-man dog pile between first and second base as No. 24 MSU (37-22) had avoided elimination and beaten its sixth ranked opponent in eight days to earn a berth in the 2012 Southeastern Conference baseball tournament.
"With Matthew Britton, you have a freshman hitting below .200, yet you have a tremendous amount of confidence in him," Cohen said. "Every day, he takes good swings. He works so hard at the game. He is an athletic kid and he just out-competes people. Sometimes, it is not about the stroke, as much as it is about competing and finding a way."
The fact the tournament in Hoover, Ala., is just 59 miles from where Britton grew up and played high school baseball was not lost on the 18-year-old's mind.
"I grew up watching the SEC Tournament every year and would come watch it every year," Britton said. "I'd even skip school to come watch it. I always dreamed of having the opportunity to come here and play in this tournament. It's a big deal for me."
After he nervously laughed and leaned back in his chair after Britton described what the SEC tournament meant to him, Cohen had one final statement to make about his freshman infielder.
"Matthew is a very good student by the way," Cohen said.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
2. Dunkelberg takes to the fiddle for upcoming show ENTERTAINMENT
3. Sounds of Summer set for June 9 kickoff ENTERTAINMENT