April 23, 2014 11:23:16 AM
PEARL -- John Cohen loves to talk about how the game of baseball can be unfortunate to a player or a team.
Cohen hopes the emergence of Gavin Collins and possible slump-busting hit by Wes Rea will help bring good fortune to his Mississippi State baseball team. Collins and Rea had two-run hits Tuesday to lead No. 20 MSU to a 5-3 victory against No. 16 Ole Miss in the Governors Cup game before a crowd of 8,496 at Trustmark Park.
Rea, who has seen his average tumble from .309 in early March to .241, took a fastball from reliever Matt Denny and powered it down the left-field line to get the MSU fans on their feet. It was only the second extra-base hit for Rea in the past month. Both run-scoring doubles have come against the Rebels.
"My objective was to make sure I'm putting the barrel of the bat 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 didn't start for the first time this season in the final two games of MSU's weekend sweep at Missouri. He erased any doubts about his status with his first two-hit day against a Southeastern Conference opponent since March 30 vs. Arkansas.
"We might not have had some situational things come through, 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."
The victory marks the first time MSU has taken the Governors Cup game in back-to-back years since it moved to Trustmark Park.
More importantly, the victory helped MSU (27-15) win its second game in four meetings against Ole Miss this season. The victory bumped the Bulldogs up seven spots in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) to No. 33. The RPI is a factor used by the NCAA tournament selection committee to evaluate at-large teams for the postseason. MSU has 12 victories against the top 100 of the latest RPI. It likely won't see another top 25 opponent until it faces Alabama in its SEC regular-season series finale.
"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."
Collins' emergence could help the Bulldogs accomplish their goal. The freshman from California, who was a high school All-American, has raised his average from .185 to .301. His hot stretch comes at a point in the season when MSU likes to stick with one catcher. On Tuesday, he showcased his strength in three phases. In the third inning, he had a two-run single to give MSU the lead. In the second, he threw out his ninth runner of the season.
"He is prepared to handle the every-day 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 an ordinary freshman."
Collins' power in the middle of the lineup has helped MSU find offensive momentum. He has six of his nine RBIs since the beginning of SEC play.
"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 we could drive, and that's what I did."
MSU starting pitcher Lucas Laster struggled to find the plate early. The junior left-hander's control problems allowed Ole Miss to manufacture the first run. Laster hit Braxton Lee with the first pitch of the game. A single by Auston Bousfield and a sacrifice fly by Austin Anderson made it 1-0.
Laster settled down and needed 14 pitches to have back-to-back perfect innings in the third and fourth. The junior college transfer from Columbia State (Tenn.) Community College controlled the tempo from the second inning on before wildness in the sixth helped end his night. An error by Wes Rea and three-straight hit batters allowed Ole Miss to re-take the lead. Laster hit six and had two wild pitches in 5 1/3 innings. He allowed two hits and three runs (one earned). He walked one and struck out two.
"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 last weekend to complete a sweep at Missouri and with less than 48 hours to prepare for Game 1 of a three-game series against Texas A&M, MSU had few options out of the bullpen. When Laster struggled, the Bulldogs couldn't go to Jacob Lindgren and Jonathan Holder, who saved MSU in its last trip to Pearl against Southern Miss.
"Normally we come into a game with 8-12 pitchers available, but tonight we had just four and used just two," Cohen said. "That may sound like a lot, but (it is) not in a Division I college midweek game."
Freshman left-hander Vance Tatum (2-0) came to the ballpark after attending a friend's visitation. He held Ole Miss (30-12) to one hit, a leadoff double by Anderson, and struck out three.
"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."
Brett Pirtle was 2-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI, C.T. Bradford had two RBIs and scored a run, and Alex Detz was 1-for-2 with an RBI for the Bulldogs.
Jeremy Massie went the first four innings for Ole Miss. He allowed four hits and two runs. He walked one and struck out three. Preston Tarkington (0-1) took the loss. He allowed one hit and one run in one third of an inning.
Will Allen and Errol Robinson (RBI) had the only other hits for the Rebels.
MSU will play host to Texas A&M at 6:30 p.m. Thursday (ESPNU). Ole Miss will play No. 17 Kentucky at 5:30 p.m. Friday in Game 1 of its three-game weekend series.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.