Bulldogs respect toughness of catcher Lovelady

Josh Lovelady
Staff Writer

There are more talented players across the landscape of college baseball than Mississippi State's Josh Lovelady and he won’t argue that claim.
The 5-11, 215-pound catcher wasn’t highly recruited out of high school at Prattville, Alabama, and spent two years at Shelton State Community College. He was an average hitter and not very fast, but he had things that couldn’t be measured.
Lovelady was hit with a fastball in the face during his sophomore season with the Bulldogs and had his mouth wired shut for part of the season. Playing through a dangerous and painful injury, he proved to be a different breed.
To his teammates, he is more than just tough, too. To them, he’s a sounding board, a great friend and the best teammate. To MSU’s program, he’s the heartbeat that has pumped blood through the veins of each and every pitcher he’s caught this season and through the rest of his teammates along the way to help get them to the NCAA super regional round this weekend.
“That dude, he serves like a marine,” sophomore pitcher Pilkington said of his catcher. “When he comes up to the mound, it’s the same old conversation. (With) him being a senior and a vet in this league, it really helps me. He helps the younger guys, too. He’s really smart about everything he does. Josh serves our team really well.”
After working to become the starting catcher last season in what supposed to be his final season, Lovelady went down in the fourth game of the season with a torn ACL in his knee. Rather than complain, he worked and he came back for a final year with the Bulldogs.
All Lovelady has done since is played in 51 out of his team’s 65 games this season making 49 starts. That includes starting in over 40 consecutive games and playing in five games in five days at the Hattiesburg Regional last week.
His .223 average and 21 RBI doesn’t jump off of the page, but his coach says he comes through when it counts.
“He has gotten some of our biggest hits that we’ve had this year,” MSU head coach Andy Cannizaro said of Lovelady. “Whatever his batting average is, it’s irrelevant. He’s picked up some huge hits for us this season and the work he’s done for us behind the plate has been incredible."
None of those hits were bigger than one he had on Monday night in game one of what would be a two-game championship matchup with Southern Miss. The Bulldogs were clinging to a 2-1 lead with two outs in the third inning against the host Golden Eagles. Lovelady came to the plate with two men on base and was facing a 2-1 count.
That’s when he saw his pitch, which was a fastball middle in, and he swung. Out the ball flew as it popped the billboard in left field and dropped over the fence for the first home run in Lovelady’s MSU career. How his teammates feel about him was immediately shown when he rounded the bases and was swarmed by a host of Bulldogs.
He was thrilled with his first homer, but more importantly how he helped the team.
“I think it came at the right time,” Lovelady said. “It was pretty awesome that it happened and I really wouldn’t want it to happen any other way than down there at Southern Miss in a regional championship game. I was pretty excited.”
In game two, Lovelady was once again ready to put team before self.
With MSU trailing by a run in the eighth inning and star hitter Brent Rooker to bat with two outs, Lovelady knew that Cannizaro needed a better runner on the base paths. He willfully accepted the trade with Brant Blaylock and left Blaylock and the other starters with some words of encouragement.
“I came out of the game and I told the guys don’t let this be the last time me and Cody (Brown) play baseball,” Lovelady said. “Rooker came through with the fly ball to right and that was really awesome. We just never quit.”
In his final season as a Bulldog and, quite possibly, as a baseball player, Lovelady is leaving everything on the field every game. If that means some extra work behind the plate, he’ll take it. Whatever he has to do to continue to play the game that he loves.
“It’s more of a mental grind than anything,” Lovelady said. “Sometimes your legs will go but if you say ‘I can do this,’ you’re going to be fine. I don’t know how many more days I’m going to get to play. We were in an elimination game after the first day and I was going to play as hard as I can to help this team win.”