April 22, 2014 10:22:59 PM
PEARL -- John Cohen loves to talk about how the game of baseball can be unfortunate to a player or team.
However, the emergence of Gavin Collins and possible slump busting of Wes Rea couldn't be coming at a more fortuitous time for the Mississippi State club. The duo for the Bulldogs both contributed two-RBI hits in MSU's 8-3 victory in the Governors Cup game at Trustmark Park in Pearl Tuesday night.
It was Rea's game-winning hit that proved to be most crucial as the 270-pound first baseman went from expected to carry the Bulldogs offensive attack to benched this past weekend at Missouri.
"My whole objective tonight was to make sure I'm putting the barrel of the bat exactly where I needed it be," said Rea, who took home the most valuable player trophy. "Sometimes when you're in a slump, you can just say it'll get better but sometimes you're doing some things fundamentally wrong. That had happened to me."
Rea took a fastball from Ole Miss reliever Matt Denny and easily powered it down the left field line to get the maroon and white continent of the 8,496 at Trustmark Park in Pearl loudly on their feet. It was only the second extra-base hit for Rea in the last month and both run-scoring doubles have come against the Rebels.
"We might not have had some situational things come through for us but we got two-out hits and it's nice to see it come together for this club like it is now," Cohen said. "We need the older guys in our lineup to start producing and a lot of them did that tonight."
Rea has seen his average tumble from .309 in early March to .241 when he arrived at the ballpark in Pearl Tuesday night. He didn't start for the first time this season in the final two games of the weekend sweep at Missouri leaving his status for the stretch run immediately in doubt. No more doubt exists after his first two-hit day against a Southeastern Conference opponent since March 30 vs. Arkansas.
"We had a meeting after we lost the series to Ole Miss and said 'hey guys, our pitchers are really doing the job for us and it's time to bring the bats," Rea said. "We have to start getting the bats hot and that starts with seniors and older guys really doing the job."
The victory marks the first time MSU has ever taken the Governors Cup game in back-to-back years since the contest was brought to Trustmark Park in Pearl.
The emergence of a catching prodigy in Gavin Collins is perfect timing during the point of a season where this Mississippi State staff loves to stick with one player behind the plate. Collins, the high school All-American catcher from California, showcased his remarkable skills once again in all three phases.
Since MSU (27-15) decided to give Collins the full-time duties at catcher, the freshman has raised his average from .185 to .301 and has continued to marvel defensively. Collins had a two-RBI single to give MSU the lead in the third inning and threw out his ninth runner of the season early in the second inning.
"He is prepared to handle the everyday duties of catcher and that's something to say for a 19-year-old young man," Cohen said. "He's doing much better defensively every single day, handling our pitchers like a veteran and of course, he's really getting big hits for us in the middle of the order. He's not a ordinary freshman."
Collins has been instrumental in MSU finding any offensive momentum with his power bat in the middle of the Bulldogs lineup. Since the beginning of SEC play, Collins has six of his nine RBIs on the 2014 season.
"Tonight he came with off speed stuff and we all just kept saying that's what he's going to try and beat us with so we had to be patient," Collins said. "We had to wait for something over the plate that we could drive and that's what I did."
Laster struggled to find the plate early and Ole Miss allowed the junior left-hander's control problems to manufacture their way to the first run of the game. Laster hit Rebels leadoff hitter with the first pitch of the game and after a single and sacrifice fly, Ole Miss secured its first lead. The Rebels are now just 22-6 this season when they score first.
Laster began to settle down after the first Rebels run scored and had back-to-back perfect innings in the third and fourth in just 14 total pitches.
"Really for the last month Butch (Thompson) has been pushing Lucas, saying we've got to get him out there because he's getting better and better and better," Cohen said. "Outside of that one inning, I was really proud of how we played."
The junior college transfer from Columbia State Community College in Tennessee began to control the tempo from the second inning on before it all came crashing down quickly because of wildness on the 178-pounder's part. An error to Wes Rea and then three straight hit batters allowed Ole Miss to easily take the lead back without much of an offensive threat generated in the frame. Laster finished with six total hit batters and two wild pitches over 5 1/3 innings.
"I think that guy is the MVP in my book because through all the stuff that happened, he gave us a chance to win," Rea said.
After using most of the pitching staff to complete a sweep at Missouri last weekend and having less than 48 hours to prepare for a Texas A&M weekend tilt, MSU had little to no options out of the bullpen. When things started to spiral negatively in Lucas Laster's first career start, the normal moves of Lindgren and Holder, who saved MSU in its last trip to Pearl against Southern Miss, weren't available.
"Normally we come into a game with 8-12 pitchers available to go but tonight we had just four and used just two," Cohen said. "That may sound like a lot but not in a Division 1 college midweek game folks."
Freshman left-hander Vance Tatum (2-0) came to the ballpark fresh off attending a friend's visitation to holding Ole Miss (30-12) to just one hit, a leadoff double to Austin Anderson but struck out three with a trio of pitches working perfectly.
"We didn't provide a lot of pressure and just three hits off their staff tonight," Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. "We couldn't get the big hit with runners on and it was the opposite for them. They got every big hit tonight."
MSU will have a quick turnaround with the ESPN/SEC broadcast weekend coming to Starkville as the No. 20 Bulldogs host Texas A&M Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. for the start of a three game tilt. Tuesday's victory gives MSU 12 victories against the Top 100 of the latest Ratings Percentage Index as the Bulldogs likely won't see another Top 25 ranked opponent till the SEC series finale at Alabama.
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