May 22, 2014 10:29:21 AM
HOOVER, Ala. -- Brett Pirtle looked at amazement at the scoreboard. The Mississippi State second baseman couldn't have been alone in that emotion.
"Did I think we'd win 12-0 and get a run rule? No," said Pirtle. "But it was good to see the bats get going but you can't ever expect to show up at the ballpark and do this to a great team."
Count South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook as another person amazed at the result but in a very different way and mood.
"I am a little lost for words and didn't expect that," Holbrook said. "There's nothing positive from this. I thought we were ready to play."
In a 12-0 victory over No. 15 South Carolina in a 7-inning run rule situation, MSU (37-20) shockingly slugged its way into the winners bracket of the Southeastern Conference tournament Wednesday night. After having a season where MSU was near the bottom half of the SEC in nearly every offensive category, the Bulldogs offense had four players with multi-hit games Wednesday. Seven different MSU players drove in a run and 14 batters came to the plate in a 8-run seventh frame to close out the blowout win.
"It's really hard to explain but it becomes an addictive thing to your ego when you see one guy drive in a run or two and then you have to do it in your at-bat too," Pirtle said. "We were aggressive and got deep in counts. If both of those things happen, you'll get pitches to hit."
MSU, who is now 8-1 all-time in the SEC tournament against South Carolina, got quality performances from veterans with previous postseason success. MSU starts the conference tournament 2-0 for a third straight season. With Wednesday's win, the Bulldogs have beaten the Gamecocks four straight times in this event.
Of the 14 hits that were sprayed all over Hoover Metropolitan Stadium Wednesday, nine of them came from players who had previous played in the postseason and are feeling the good vibes from possibly starting another playoff run.
"We have a lot of guys in that dugout who have won a lot of SEC tournament baseball games," MSU coach John Cohen said. "They clearly understand what's at stake and what it takes to get it done."
The 12 runs scored by MSU were the most in program history since the event was moved to Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in 1998 and the most in the tournament since a 13-10 victory over Auburn in 1993. Seth Heck and C.T. Bradford each had three hits as the top two spots in the MSU lineup were 6-for-9.
Pirtle, who stands just 174 pounds, likely hit the furthest ball so far in the two days of the 2014 SEC tournament. The MSU cleanup hitter jumped all over a fastball from South Carolina reliever Taylor Widener that easily sailed into the Gamecocks bullpen for a three-run home run to give the Bulldogs a commanding 7-0 lead.
"I was really just trying to get something going with that at-bat but I knew it was gone when it left my bat," Pirtle said. "Home runs like that here, in our park and at TD Ameritrade don't happen by trying to swing hard. They happen by taking the perfect swing and making perfect contact."
Pirtle hit .316 in last year's SEC tournament, scored two runs and currently leads MSU with .344 batting average. He has gotten on base in 62 straight SEC games.
MSU knocked out South Carolina ace left-hander Jordan Montgomery (7-5) after just 3 2/3 innings as the projected Top 10 round draft pick was throwing on one less day of rest despite the Gamecocks having the first round bye.
"I just couldn't find the zone and was behind in counts early," Montgomery said. "They really grinded out at-bats against me and suddenly their contact was finding holes."
South Carolina (42-15) has a lot on the line this week especially after Ole Miss was upset 2-1 earlier in the day. The Gamecocks are in a late season battle with Ole Miss for a national seed honor and will now have to recover from its worst loss ever in the SEC tournament to face top-seed Florida today.
"It has been a long time since I had my tail kicked like that," Holbrook said. "The saving grace is this was one game and we still have an opportunity to do something great before we head home."
Once MSU sprinted out to a 3-0 lead thanks to run-scoring plays from seniors Wes Rea and Demarcus Henderson, the Bulldogs handed the baseball to one of the country's best relievers. Jacob Lindgren (6-1) entered with two runners on base in the third inning and the junior left-hander retired all 12 batters he faced, with six strikeouts in four innings.
Of all the offensive surprises, the MSU blowout was complete with a not-so shocking but equally as beneficial performance on the mound by Lindgren.
"We're past the point of me being surprised when Jacob comes in a game and dominates like he did tonight," Cohen said. "People may wake up and not realize in a 12-0 game that we brought him in a situation where the game still could've gone either way."
MSU will try to earn the bye into the semifinal round tonight with a matchup with Kentucky after the Wildcats have beaten Alabama and Florida in its first two games. The Wildcats (34-22) are coached by Gary Henderson, who is Cohen's former assistant during his time with the Wildcats. The MSU-UK game will be the last game of Thursday night and will be televised regionally by Comcast Sports Southeast and will also be available nationally on ESPN3.
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.
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