May 21, 2014 7:57:25 PM
HOOVER, Ala. -- Mississippi State has a big picture dilemma. The team's NCAA postseason scenario for the Bulldogs whether they won the 2014 Southeastern Conference tournament or were knocked out Tuesday night in the first round, was more than likely the same - a 2-seed on the road for a NCAA Regional.
Therefore, the question that should be on the minds of all fans, analysts and folks watching this MSU team this week in Hoover, Alabama is: what can MSU find or do to improve its chances to advance past the regional round of the NCAA tournament?
In the midst of MSU's 5-4 victory in 10 innings Tuesday over Georgia, The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog wanted to highlight two points that could become highly contributive factors to MSU making a deep run in the postseason.
Without further ado....
1) Lucas Laster - Mississippi State junior pitcher Lucas Laster has gone from a complete afterthought when SEC play began to a possible confidence builder for his team's postseason rotation in a matter of months.
Laster already has two quality starts in big ballparks this season and a 1.74 ERA in SEC play this season. The junior left-hander wasn't even capable of making the travel roster in March when his team played Georgia on the road to open SEC play. However, the junior college transfer acted as if he'd been a weekend starter all season on the mound while pitching his team into the double elimination round.
There's a serious argument to be that if MSU can get solid starting pitching out of Ross Mitchell, Trevor Fitts and now Lucas Laster in a NCAA Regional, then the Bulldogs could see a payoff run similar to when they got sensational outings out of Luis Pollorena, Evan Mitchell and Nick Routt to sweep the Atlanta Regional as a 3-seed hosted by Georgia Tech.
Laster pitched a career-high 8 1/3 innings Tuesday, allowing five hits and two runs with a career-high eight strikeouts and two walks. After being touched for two runs in the Georgia third inning, Laster settled down and retired the next nine in a row thanks to going back to a spectacular fastball-changeup philosophy.
He even made life easier on freshman catcher Gavin Collins by keeping his heavy fastball down in the zone and not creating any pitches on short hops or balls that squirted to the backstop.
"Lucas was outstanding," MSU coach John Cohen said. "I am proud of him. He did exactly what you need in the first round of a tournament. I can't say enough about what he has meant to us in his last five appearances."
2) Wes Rea's clutch hit - While many MSU fans might have been saying 'it's about time', the truth is the numbers suggest they're 100 percent correct.
Last season in the SEC tournament, Wes Rea hit .316 in four games with two extra-base hits. The 270-pounder has a home run (2012 vs. Arkansas) at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium) already and has always been a clutch performer dating back to his postseason success in the past two years.
"They get excited and they know he's had so many big postseason moments for us in the past," Cohen said. "If we're going to be as good as we need to be, Wes Rea has to be a factor."
Mississippi State's 270-pound junior attacked the first pitch he saw from relief pitcher Jarret Brown for a two-run double that gave MSU a lead in the sixth inning of a 5-4 victory. Rea had just three RBIs throughout a month of May where he had been benched for the first time in his career. The idea of Rea struggling and being benched in 2014 is now irrelevant. Rea can change the perception of his entire season with the final month of the season and with the mechanical work he's doing with MSU assistant coach Nick Mingione, the fourth-year junior seems to very much realize that fact.
"Nick has really worked on getting his front side better and worked with his legs to get him in the right spot," Cohen said. "He's really been working on a lot of things to get back to where he needs to be."
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.
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