May 22, 2014 10:20:51 AM
HOOVER, Ala. -- Brett Pirtle looked at amazement at the scoreboard.
"Did I think we'd win 12-0 and get a run rule? No," Pirtle said. "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 against No. 15 South Carolina in seven innings, No. 18 MSU (37-20) slugged its way into the winners' bracket of the Southeastern Conference tournament Wednesday night at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. After a regular season in which MSU was near the bottom half of the SEC in nearly every offensive category, the Bulldogs had four players with multi-hit games Wednesday. Seven players drove in a run and 14 batters came to the plate in an eight-run seventh inning that helped the Bulldogs force the 10-run mercy rule.
"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, which is 8-1 in the SEC tournament against South Carolina, received quality performances from veterans to start the conference tournament 2-0 for a third-straight season. The win was the Bulldogs' fourth in a row against the Gamecocks in the SEC tournament.
Of MSU's 14 hits, nine were from players who had previous played in the postseason.
"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 were the most MSU has scored 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 against Auburn in 1993. Seth Heck and C.T. Bradford each had three hits in the top two spots in the lineup, while cleanup hitter Pirtle jumped all over a fastball from reliever Taylor Widener and deposited it into the Gamecocks' bullpen for a three-run home run to give the Bulldogs a 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 and scored two runs. He leads MSU with .344 batting average and has reached base in 62 straight SEC games.
MSU knocked out ace left-hander Jordan Montgomery (7-5) after just 3 2/3 innings. The projected top-10 round draft pick was throwing one day earlier despite the fact that the Gamecocks had a 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 lost to Arkansas 2-1 earlier in the day. The Gamecocks and the Rebels are in the hunt for a national seed honor. South Carolina will try to recover today from its worst loss in the SEC tournament against top-seeded Florida.
"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, it handed the baseball to one of the country's best relievers. Jacob Lindgren (6-1) relieved starter Trevor Fitts with two runners on base in the third and the junior left-hander retired all 12 batters he faced in four innings. He struck out six.
"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 tonight (approximate start time of 7:30 p.m., CSS) to earn a bye into the semifinals with a victory against Kentucky. The Wildcats (34-22) are coached by Gary Henderson, who is Cohen's former assistant coach when he was the head coach in Lexington, Kentucky.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.