FILE - Mississippi State first baseman Wes Rea broke out of a 1-for-41 slump Thursday with two hits and two RBIs in a 3-1 win over Kentucky. Photo by: MSU athletics
May 18, 2012 12:32:17 AM
STARKVILLE - On opening night of the regular season finale series, the script was followed perfectly.
The Mississippi State University baseball team had great pitching, timely hitting, a strong bullpen effort and small-ball fundamentals in an upset win over No. 4 University of Kentucky Thursday.
"This is the game we have to win and this is the manner in which we have to win it - the one-run and two-run games with the pitching and defense," MSU coach John Cohen said.
Freshman first baseman Wes Rea, who was trapped in a devastating 1-for-41 slump, got a shot in the arm literally before the game and then figuratively did the same to the Bulldogs offensive effort.
"His shoulder has been killing him and he's just been playing through it," Cohen said. "He's learning and I've said this along that he has a very high baseball I.Q. so he's going to figure it out. There's no doubt that if can get Wes healthy then in the future he can be a very good player for us."
The 290-pound first baseman from Gulfport had his first multi-hit game since April 20 including a two-run single that put MSU on the scoreboard early.
"My swing is back and hopefully I can carry this over to the rest of the season," Rea said as he joked with the media it was nice to be requested for the post-game press conference. "I think when my swing is where it needs to be, that's what it'll look like."
Rea has been fighting a severe right shoulder injury for at least two months that had limited his ability at the plate and finally went to see a shoulder specialist this week. The diagnosis on the freshman's shoulder, which has already had corrective surgery from a previous high school pitching injury, was what Rea called "a knot" near the rotator cuff causing nerve pain and he immediately received an injection to relieve the discomfort.
"After the shot my pain is gone," Rea said. "I'm not saying I'm going 2-for-4 in every game but it's definitely a good start."
MSU (32-21, 14-14 in Southeastern Conference), who have a team earned run average of 1.39 over the past 16 games, rode the dominant starting pitching of junior right-hander Chris Stratton once again. The Tupelo native held one of the SEC's most productive lineups at bay for another quality start. Stratton (10-1) allowed just one run over 6 1/3 innings while striking out eight in just 82 pitches.
"I thought Strat was very, very good but they did a nice job of covering pitches tonight and shoving them into the outfield," Cohen said. "Kentucky is a good club and this isn't an accident what they're doing."
Kentucky (41-13, 18-10 in SEC play) erased the shutout in the sixth inning after cleanup hitter Luke Maile smacked an RBI-double off the right field wall to cut the Bulldogs lead in half at 2-1.
Less than 48 hours before suffering an embarrassing shut out home to the University of Central Arkansas, MSU got a more balanced offensive effort up and down the line as they finished with eight hits, including Rea's 16th multi-hit game and catcher Mitch Slauter's ninth multi-hit game this season. Bulldogs leadoff hitter Adam Frazier also had a hit making it 43 of 53 games this season where the sophomore has reached base.
"For the most part, I thought we took better swings and made them make some plays defensively," Cohen said.
MSU answered UK's only run of the night with a critical insurance score in the classic small-ball fashion that Cohen's teams have come to be known for since he took the job in Starkville.
After UK head coach Gary Henderson made the move to the bullpen for a lefty-lefty matchup by bringing in Sam Mahar to pitch to junior infielder Sam Frost, many assumed Cohen would go into his bench for a right-handed hitter.
However, the MSU coaching staff trusted the walk-on from Hoover, Ala., to perfectly execute a safety squeeze bunt play to bring home a sprinting Slauter from third base. The play actually resulted in an infield hit as Frost beat the throw to first base because the ball was nearly thrown down the right field line.
"That call was made by (first base coach Nick) Mingione who said 'let's let him bunt because he's much more comfortable doing that'," Cohen said. "Mitch isn't the fastest guy in America so it's got to be well placed and it's a little softer at home plate so you got to bang (the ball) a little bit more. We got to pressure the defense."
Once Stratton exited to a standing ovation, the Bulldogs bullpen depth took over again as southpaw Ross Mitchell allowed a single hit while recording seven outs in a critical situation for MSU to pick up its seventh SEC series opening victory.
Mitchell has kept his ERA under 2.00 all season and hasn't allowed a run in his last 10 1/3 innings. The redshirt-freshman from Smyrna, Tenn., gave way to freshman Jonathan Holder for the game's final out. Holder was able to increase his season-long scoreless streak to 21 2/3 innings with a four-pitch punch out to seal the victory.
"(Ross Mitchell) has power sink meaning it's not just sink from low velocity or spin and I think a big part of it was a delivery change by (MSU pitching coach) Butch Thompson," Cohen said. "It's a brilliant move from one of the best pitching coaches in the country. That's why we're able to hold a club hitting over .300 to just seven hits and one run."
With the victory MSU moved into a four-way tie for sixth place in the SEC with Vanderbilt University, the University of Arkansas and the University of Mississippi.
The series resumes with a 7:06 p.m. start Friday and will conclude with a 2 p.m. first pitch for the regular season finale. In the pre-game ceremonies today, MSU senior players Caleb Reed and Brent Brownlee will be honored near home plate.
Mississippi State (32-21, 14-14) 3.
No. 6 Kentucky (41-13, 18-10) 1
W - Chris Stratton (10-1) 6.1 IP, 6 H, ER, 0 BB, 8 K in 82 pitches
L - Taylor Rogers (6-4) 5.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 3 K in 86 pitches
S - Jonathan Holder (5) 1/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, K in 4 pitches
MVP: MSU first baseman Wes Rea (2-for-4 with 2 RBIs)
Turning point: 4th inning - Trey Porter began things when he reached as a one-out hit batsman. Mitch Slauter followed with a double down the left field line. Brent Brownlee reached as a hit batsman to load the bases. Wes Rea followed with a two-run single back through the left side of the infield.
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.