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Joltin' Joe: Platooning Transfer Catcher's Career Night Lifts Bulldogs

Mississippi State catcher Joe Powell

There was talk, and a lot of wishing, from RPI-fearful Mississippi State fans that Tuesday night's game scheduled between the Bulldogs and the Lions of North Alabama would be cancelled. Rarely has any drought of any length been the object of so many prayers for rain, wary that despite a win, State would suffer a hit to its RPI, deemed so critical by so many when discussing the hopes of literally tens of thousands of fans who want a chance to jam Dudy Noble Field in late May/early June, seeking postseason wins while trying to break their own campus attendance records that dominate the world of college baseball.

And the game was indeed played, while "rain" and "inclement weather" creeped onto the online scoreboards for other teams, some legit, some maybe not. Head Coach Chris Lemonis talked about it in post-game remarks, to play, or not to play, that was the question.

Okay, okay, I should tell you about the game already. Mississippi State won 8-4, in a game that for the most part was a lot closer, and nerve wracking for the 9349 in attendance, than the final score indicated. And there's one Bulldog player who's still praying, thanks that there wasn't rain and he got to start at catcher, a position he's shared this season.

You may have heard of Joe Powell, a transfer from Cincinnati, who was on the verge of abandoning a baseball career and becoming a fire fighter when he got the chance to become a Bulldog in Starkville, MS. He arrived after fall practice had concluded, and slowly has carved out his own niche on the team as part of his heart-warming story of redeeming his career, and himself.

And Tuesday night, he had the kind of night you usually only see fictionalized in a Disney movie. Sure, he hit a home run on Sunday at Arkansas, #1 as a Bulldog and the first in so long he doesn't even remember when his last one prior came.

But Powell didn't hit one Tuesday night, he didn't hit two, he joined a group of school record holders, including his injured catcher teammate Ross Highfill, with a trio of home runs in a single game. Each one came at a critical time in the contest, doubling an early 1-0 lead, breaking a 2-2 tie when the outcome was still very much in doubt, and extending the MSU lead back to four after UNA had cut it to two.

So, Joe Powell, who earlier this season redeemed his baseball career with another chance at Mississippi State, may have redeemed his team's season by lifting them to a win in a game they couldn't afford to lose.

Yes, the Bulldogs have met their first and second goals by qualifying for the SEC and NCAA tournaments already, but the name of the game for the Mississippi State baseball program, and its hordes of grilling and chilling fans, is not just making the NCAAs, it's hosting a Regional, and maybe a Super Regional if things fall right. And, a loss to 17-32-1 North Alabama would have significantly damaged their RPI, and reputation with the selection committee, likely severe enough that anything short of winning the SEC Tournament next week might still not be enough to overcome such a setback.

Cue Joe Powell, and issue him a cape while you're at it. Post game, Powell was thankful and humble, considering the Herculean task he'd just finished with his 4-4, 6 RBI night.

And, ironically, the big news going into the game was the return of pitcher Nate Dohm from rehab. His second comeback attempt this season proved much more promising, and worth the wait, as Dohm's domn-inating two innings of work helped bring new hope to the Bulldogs' postseason aspirations.

The Bulldogs now welcome on Thursday for the final regular season SEC series the Missouri Tigers, who've been a thorn in their side the past few seasons, especially when they came into Dudy Noble Field in 2021 and left with two out of three over the eventual National Champions. The home team needs to win two, or three, to keep their hosting hopes alive, and like the fight shown on this night by North Alabama, nothing, and no one, can be taken for granted in college baseball this time of year.

Here are post-game comments from Lemonis and Powell:

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