Mississippi State 1B Wes Rea hits a 3-run home run to put the Bulldogs up early in a dominating 9-1 victory over Arkansas in the first round of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament.
May 22, 2012 5:06:29 PM
HOOVER, Ala. - One big swing by freshman first baseman Wes Rea gave his team all of the cushion he needed as Mississippi State University defeated the University of Arkansas to open the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament with a 9-1 win.
MSU (35-21), who had never beaten the Razorbacks in school history at the SEC Tournament, were paced by the near 400-foot shot to left field by Rea to continue its hot streak late in the season.
Tuesday's victory marks the first victory in the SEC Tournament for MSU since the Bulldogs defeated the University of Mississippi 4-1 in the championship game in 2005.
"Those older guys that went through that run we had last year desperately want to go through a run like that again," MSU coach John Cohen said referencing the 2011 run to the Gainesville Super Regional. "Our leadership on this club has allowed our freshmen to grow up a little bit faster."
The Bulldogs (35-21) got a lift when Rea took a fastball from Arkansas ace pitcher Ryne Stanek deep over the left field wall for his first home run since April 13 at South Carolina giving MSU an early 3-0 lead.
"It was a fastball in and I'd see pitches from that guy before so I was sitting on fastball," Rea said. "I was really, with runners on second and third, just trying to get under something to the outfield for an RBI situation but with that guy's velocity the ball will jump on you. It did there."
Rea, who has struggled with shoulder injury issues all season, came into Hoover, Ala., hitting just .188 against SEC competition but made a connection to the back wall protecting the parking lot behind Regions Park.
"We got the big blow either from Wes and what that did was allow our kids the opportunity to relax and just play," Cohen said.
With a three-run lead to play with, MSU freshman right-hander Brandon Woodruff (1-2) did a worthy job of pitching himself in and out of trouble while mixing in a 92-93 miles-per-hour fastball with a devastating overhand curveball to get five strikeouts in five innings of work. Woodruff, a former 5th-round pick by the Texas Rangers in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft, held the fifth-best offense in the league to just two hits through a 72-pitch outing.
Woodruff becomes the second straight freshman to start the SEC Tournament on the mound for MSU under Cohen as Evan Mitchell also went five innings against the University of Florida.
"I can't say enough about Woody in his first SEC start by doing a great job of shoving the ball straight in the straight zone," Cohen said. "He's going to be a phenomenal pitcher and could be the next Chris Stratton for us."
Stratton (10-1, 2.16) , who was held out of the first day of the tournament in order to be on a solid rest schedule, is likely to the baseball for the start as MSU faces top-seed LSU Wednesday.
Woodruff, a Bulldogs freshman who had been relegated to mostly mid-week assignments as he began his college baseball career, outdueled one of the more premier arms in the SEC this season in Stanek.
"I was just trying to work the ball down in the zone for soft contact to get a ground ball," Woodruff said. "That's was the only thing in my head while I was out there."
The Razorbacks sophomore right-hander, who is expected to be a Top 10 overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, struggled to find command early as he lasted just 5 2/3 innings while walking five batters in a 109-pitch effort.
"He was working out of the stretch the entire game," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "He wasn't real sharp and maybe you could make another excuse that he hadn't pitched in a while but he just seemed to be behind in the count an awful lot."
MSU got some help defensively by shortstop Adam Frazier as the Team USA selection made a pair of impressive plays with the glove including a glove flip up the middle in the seventh inning to start a 6-4-3 double play to end a major threat in that frame. At the plate, Frazier went 3-for-4 as the sophomore has now gotten a hit in 46 of the 56 games played this season.
Arkansas (39-18) got on the scoreboard with an RBI-single by Razorbacks No. 9 hitter Matt Vinson but the Bulldogs bullpen was able to get a lazy fly ball to end the scare.
After the fifth inning, MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson went to the revolving door bullpen plan that included senior Caleb Reed, freshman left-hander Ross Mitchell and freshman closer Jonathan Holder.
"We felt like we were still in the game at 3-1 and felt like the momentum would swing our way and it just never did," Van Horn said. "We just never could get that over-the-hump hit."
Holder, who increased the scoreless streak of his college career to 24 1/3 innings, picked his seventh save of the season by getting a key strikeout with two on in the eighth inning.
MSU will now play top-seed LSU in game two of the Wednesday session as the Tigers received a bye from Tuesday's play thanks to winning the Western Division by three games this season.
"I really think guys like Wes and Woody because as (former MSU coach) Pat McMahon would say 'moxsy' or 'maturity' because with they're with our older guys that went through this all before," Cohen said. "Our leadership on this club has allowed our freshman to grow up a little bit faster."
The second game between MSU-LSU will begin 30 minutes after the 9:30 a.m. elimination game between Ole Miss, who lost Tuesday 2-0 to Kentucky, and Arkansas.
No. 24 Mississippi State (35-21) 9,
No. 25 Arkansas (39-18) 1
W - Brandon Woodruff (1-2) 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, BB, 5 K in 72 pitches
L - Ryne Stanek (6-4) 5.2 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 5 BB, 7 K in 109 pitches
S - Jonathan Holder (7) 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, BB, K in 25 pitches
MVP: The MSU freshmen - Wes Rea hit a three-run home run to left field to give MSU an early lead while pitchers Brandon Woodruff, Ross Mitchell and Jonathan Holder protected the lead with quality pitching throughout the afternoon. Freshman outfielder Demarcus Henderson continued on his confidence run by going 2-for-5 with a run scored and Matthew Britton, who came in hitting .147, provided a single and an insurance run late in the game.
Turning point: 2nd inning: When Rea did just that on a fastball from Ryne Stanek to give the Bulldogs an early lead in the second frame. It was Rea's 5th home run of the season and the team-leading 36, 37 and 38 RBIs.
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.