By MATTHEW STEVENS
ATLANTA – Mississippi State used two pitchers that were told they were too short and didn’t throw hard enough to lead them to its first NCAA victory in four years.
The Bulldogs lefty-righty duo of Luis Pollorena and Caleb Reed combined for an eight-hit shutout in a 3-0 win over Southern Mississippi in the opening round game of Atlanta Regional in the 2011 NCAA Baseball Tournament.
“We did what we have to do which is to defend and pitch,” Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said.
Pollorena befuddled a high-powered Southern Miss lineup for the second time in the 2011 season after shutting them out through 5 2/3 innings in relief in a Bulldogs 5-4 victory at Trustmark Park in Pearl on April 5.
“I was just trying to get to both sides of the plate today and just staying low,” Pollorena said.
The 5-foot-6 southpaw from Marian (Ala.) Community College held an opponent scoreless for the first time since being put in the starting rotation just over a month ago. Throughout 11 2/3 scoreless innings against the Golden Eagles (39-18) this season, Pollorena has allowed just six hits while striking out nine.
“He’s pretty good – keeps the ball down,” Southern Miss junior infielder B.A. Vollmuth said. “Every pitch is below the knees and if he left one up, we really didn’t make him pay for it. He’s gotten us good twice now.”
Pollorena struggled through 50 pitches through two innings in 93-degree heat but the sophomore joked that compared to his hometown of Laredo, Texas, where the temperature can reach triple digits, he felt like “a cold front was coming in.”
“In a regional game, there is a lot of pressure,” Pollorena said. “I just tried to get a zero up there in the first inning and go from there. I can’t say enough about our defense.”
Pollorena admitted in the post-game media conference that he had coaches from both the University of Texas and Miami (Fla.) tell him he was too small to pitch in Division 1 baseball.
“Pollorena and Caleb Reed pitched brilliantly today,” Cohen said. “Luis knew he going to get the ball today and his preparation for the week was outstanding. He basically said 'if you’re going to beat me, you’re going to beat me through contact.'”
Coming off a disappointing Conference USA Tournament performance that saw them eliminated in pool play, the scoreless streak for the Golden Eagles has now reached 25 innings in a row.
“We just have not swung the bats well at all,” Southern Miss head coach Scott Berry said. "I just don't know the reason for it (but) I wish I did."
In the opening half inning, a two-out RBI-double by second baseman Nick Vickerson scored Ryan Collins giving MSU (35-23) an early lead and a cushion for their starting pitcher making just his fourth start of the season.
Friday marked the fourth straight contest with an RBI for Vickerson as the second baseman is hitting .357 with seven RBIs since the regular season finale in Starkville against LSU.
After Pollorena (7-5) found a way to complete six innings of work, Cohen handed the baseball to Reed and the junior allowed just three hits in the final three frames to pick up his 12th save of the season.
“When Caleb is rested like that and threw like he did last week, I feel like he can beat anyone,” Cohen said. “I felt like the game was in the seventh inning and not really the ninth so that’s when we had to get him in there.”
Cohen made his first substitution of the day pay off as junior outfielder Brent Brownlee laced a two-RBI single that scored Vickerson and senior Jaron Shepherd.
“It's kind of funny how the game finds you," Brownlee said. "I came up to bat and I swung at a slider on the first pitch. I figured he'd come back to it and he left it up and I was able to put it the other way."
The victory marked the first shutout for Mississippi State since an 18-0 dominating win over Alabama A&M on March 30 and just the sixth shutout of the 2011 season for the Bulldogs pitching staff. The last time MSU achieved a shutout in NCAA play was a 3-0 victory over host Florida State on the second day of the Regional that was started on the mound by Justin Pigott.
“We keep trying to take steps,” Cohen said. “This is just another step forward. Every step our program makes helps. That’s how you build a program.”
In what could be the final start of his college career, Southern Mississippi senior right-hander Todd McInnis went the distance for his second straight complete game of the season allowing just seven hits and three earned runs in 116 pitches.
McInnis, who earlier in the year broke the school’s career innings record and wins, was forced to carry the pitching load after the Golden Eagles second and third weekend rotation starters (Geoffrey Thomas and Jonathan Thompson) were ruled out of this NCAA Regional for academic eligibility issues.
Mississippi State will now play Austin Peay in the winners bracket today at 6 p.m. The Governors defeated Georgia Tech 2-1 in the second game Friday.
Freshman righty Evan Mitchell (5-1, 3.49 ERA) will get the starting nod on the mound today for the Bulldogs.