June 18, 2013 11:32:57 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
OMAHA, Neb. -- Jonathan Holder and Wes Rea aren't interested in having the 27th out of a game be a normal, boring experience.
The duo from the Mississippi Gulf Coast have combined to give fans of the Mississippi State University baseball team extreme heart attacks while closing out victories in the NCAA tournament.
On Monday, Holder recorded his 20th save of the season thanks to a deft play by Rea on a one-hop throw to first base that secured MSU's 5-4 victory against Indiana University in a winners' bracket game at TD Ameritrade Park.
The save also was the 29th of Holder's career, which ties him with Van Johnson (1995-98) for the school record.
It didn't come without drama.
Summoned by pitching coach Butch Thompson with runners on a second and third base and MSU clinging to a 5-4 lead with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Holder got ahead of shortstop Michael Basil on a curveball. Basil tapped the next pitch just in front of the mound for what looked to be a routine play, but Holder short-hopped the throw near the edge of the grass cutout in front of first base. The 272-pound Rea didn't flinch and snared the errant throw to help MSU (50-18) survive another nail-biter. It was reminiscent of the wheel play to first base that Holder and Rea were involved with more than a week ago against the University of Virginia in game two of the NCAA Charlottesville Super Regional.
When asked about their inability to work together in stressful situations during the postgame media conference, Rea's carefree and joking nature took over.
"I got this Holder, don't sweat this," Rea said with a smile as MSU coach John Cohen rolled his eyes. "I guess if you all go back to the Super Regional in the last inning, the perfect feed I gave him right to the chest that he dropped -- well, (Holder) thought it was behind him -- so we kind of have been going back and forth on if it was a good feed or bad feed. Either way he dropped it, so here we go again, bottom of the ninth, tough situation, and I guess you can say in the end my feed was definitely better than what he gave me tonight to handle. My point is we know the better athlete of the two is who caught the best ball is all I gotta say."
Cohen piped in to remind everybody the wheel play and bunt plays in front of the mound are things his pitchers work on every day at practice.
"Holder comes in, throws two pitches, two quality pitches, gets save number 20, and then doesn't move his feet and throws the ball in the dirt to make everybody's heart stop," Cohen said. "We work on that a little bit, don't we, John? Every day."
Holder shrugged his shoulders throughout the conversation because the 27th out helped MSU improve to 50-18 and moved it one victory away from the best-of-three CWS championship series.
"I just was going to say tonight's throw was payback for the bad feed from Wes in Virginia," Holder said. "Last I checked, I'm not the most unathletic guy in the world out there."
No changes expected to the baseball in future years
Anybody expecting changes to the baseball used in the college game should think again.
Some current college coaches bemoan the lack of power in the game with the new BBCOR bats that have limited the trampoline effect off the bat and lowered scoring. LSU coach Paul Mainieri expressed concern Friday when he arrived in Omaha with his team.
"I just worry that it goes in the other direction because whether we want to admit it or not, we still are fighting for the fan bases and the support," Mainieri said. "I don't know what the answer is now because I don't think the bats are going to change back, and we love the bats we use, but just across the board you'd like to see a little bit more offense, so anything that can get a little more offense into the game, I'd be in favor of."
The NCAA Baseball Rules Committee won't consider any rule changes until July 2014, so the 2015 season would be the soonest a new ball could be used.
In the "State of Baseball" press conference, American Baseball Coaches Association Executive Director Dave Keilitz said the idea of going to the ball used in professional baseball is complicated because Rawlings is the only manufacturer that makes a ball with the professional coefficient of restitution (COR), and a number of conferences have contracts with Wilson and Diamond. However, he said those manufacturers easily could switch to lower seams, just like how golf club manufactures change their products from year to year.
"We don't want to change the ball and take it back to where we were when nobody liked it a few years ago, so that is a big factor," Keilitz said. "The factor is present contracts that conferences have, the legal actions of that, maybe even liability issues, and then there are also financial impacts. The pro ball costs more than the college ball, so all of those things have to be taken into consideration."
According to the NCAA's midseason report, Division I teams entered April averaging one home run about every three games, compared to about one per game in 2010. This year's midseason batting average (.270) and scoring (5.25 runs per team) were the lowest since 1973, the year before the aluminum bat arrived in college.
"I think there are more people who feel the bats were a mistake, that they jumped the gun and there was no testing going into it," University of Mississippi coach Mike Bianco said in May to the Birmingham News. "I don't think anybody realized it would change the game this dramatically. Even three years later people say, 'You'll get used to it.' But look at how it's changed the game. It's almost to the other side of the spectrum."
NCAA rules mandate balls must have a COR of no greater than .555, according to The Associated Press. The COR measures the bounciness at impact. The higher the COR, the greater the bounce. Balls in pro baseball have a maximum COR of .578.