May 21, 2014 3:44:43 AM
HOOVER, Ala. -- One pitch.
That's all Wes Rea needed to at least for one night make everyone forget his struggles throughout the 2014 season.
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 over Georgia at the Southeastern Conference tournament. Rea had just three RBIs throughout a month of May where he had been benched for the first time in his career. The fourth-year junior nearly matched that total of runs driven in with one pitch and one swing Tuesday night in the 10-inning victory.
MSU is now 7-0 this season in extra-inning games and 28-1 when they lead in a game after the eighth inning. The Bulldogs will face South Carolina in the double-elimination portion of the tournament tonight.
Rea was not made available to the media Tuesday night following the victory and has declined several requests for comment after recent games. MSU coach John Cohen said assistant coach Nick Mingione has been personally working with Rea on shorting that power swing and the 270-pounder showed his ability to go to opposite field on his run-scoring hit Tuesday night.
"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."
Rea sat in the dugout for five innings listening to Cohen plead with the starters in his lineup to attack fastballs from Georgia starter Dylan Cole and the MSU co-captain took the words to the plate for the game's biggest hit.
"I really think he got tired of we saying to our guys to be aggressive and he wasn't going to let a good pitch get by without putting the barrel to it," Cohen said. "He got the barrel out front and intentionally took that pitch where it needed to go."
The mostly partisan Hoover Metropolitan Stadium crowd leapt to their feet when Rea's line drive landed deep in the outfield scoring Seth Heck and Brett Pirtle. The MSU fan base has been waiting for a breakout performance from its star first baseman as Rea has seen his batting average drop 68 points (.317 to .249) since March 1.
"I think our fans and everybody watching knows he has really been struggling and they feel it too," Cohen said. "They get excited and they know he's had so many big postseason moments for us in the past. If we're going to be as good as we need to be, Wes Rea has to be a factor."
Before the clutch hit from Rea, MSU (36-20) was continuing its painful offensive tradition of get 'em on, get 'em over and get out. The unfortunate motto for the MSU baseball team led to Dylan Cole cruising through five innings before he hit back-to-back batters in the sixth forcing Georgia coach Scott Stricklin to go to a shaky bullpen.
Mississippi State pitcher Lucas Laster went from an afterthought to a possible confidence builder for his team's postseason rotation in a matter of months.
The junior left-hander wasn't chosen for making the travel roster in March when his team played Georgia on the road to open Southeastern Conference 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.
Laster pitched a career-high 8 1/3 innings, 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.
"Lucas was outstanding," 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."
No. 18 MSU got on the scoreboard early when a sacrifice fly by Cody Brown followed a Seth Heck double and Georgia (26-29-1) defensive mishap on a sacrifice bunt. MSU is now 29-4 this season when they score first in a game, a major factor when their offense has been less than spectacular throughout the 2014 campaign.
"We'd certainly like to be a scenario where we're not needing to play seven extra-inning games but you look around the country and you begin to realize that all games are close at this form of baseball," Cohen said.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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