Redshirt freshman Wes Rea takes a throw at first base during the season. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
Redshirt freshman first baseman Wes Rea has been one of the big reasons the Mississippi State Bulldogs have been so good on defense this season.
The Bulldogs have only made 75 errors and sophomore shortstop Adam Frazier said Rea's 6-5 and 296-pound frame has probably saved him about 20 times on bad throws this season.
"I feel good about that," Frazier said about having Rea at first base. "You can throw it about anywhere and he's got it. I like that."
Rea has always been a first baseman and has acquired the skills along the way to be the best defender he can be.
"I'm comfortable with it and know what to do in all situations," Rea said.
The Gulfport native has been just one part of the late-in-the-season success story that makes up the MSU baseball team.
After winning the Southeastern Conference Tournament last week in Hoover, Ala., the Bulldogs landed a No. 2 seed in the Tallahassee (Fla.) Regional of the NCAA Tournament.
"It's been awesome," Rea said. "I followed teams like this growing up and it's awesome to be a part of it now."
Rea had a big part of MSU winning the SEC Tournament as he hit his fifth home run of the season on the first day against Arkansas.
Although some notice Rea for his defense, his offense has gotten better as well.
He improved his average to .245 and has tied for the team-lead in home runs with five and leads the Bulldogs in runs batted in with 39.
"I feel like he's in a great rhythm offensively," MSU coach John Cohen said. "He's had to battle through some tough valleys through the course of the year."
A shoulder injury has probably kept Rea from having the type of year at the plate that he's capable of having, but Cohen admires the way his young player goes about his business.
"Wes is a student of the game," Cohen said. "He's going to do nothing, but get better. Because of his physical presence, some people don't realize he's a freshman and how much time he has left to get better. There's no doubt he's going to be a great player because his brain works like a high-level baseball player."
During his senior season at Harrison Central High School, Rea hit .478 with 14 home runs, 18 doubles, two triples and 39 RBI. He was the Most Valuable Player for the winning South team at the 2010 Crossroads Diamond Club Mississippi High School All-Star Game after hitting a three-run homer and driving in four runs.
Frazier is anxious to see what his teammate can accomplish in the future.
"I know he wanted to hit a little bit better and his shoulder has been bothering him, but other than that, he's had a good first year," Frazier said. "Next year, he'll be ready to be a big shot."
Rea has been a part of a young group of Bulldogs that have improved as the season has progressed.
Along with Frazier, a sophomore who captured the MVP of the SEC Tournament, redshirt freshman outfielder Demarcus Henderson, freshman infielder Matthew Britton, sophomore infielder Daryl Norris, freshman pitcher Jonathan Holder, freshman pitcher Jacob Lindgren, freshman pitcher Brandon Woodruff, redshirt freshman pitcher Ross Mitchell, and sophomore pitcher Evan Mitchell are just a few first or second year players who have contributed for MSU this season.
"The youth and inexperience of our lineup has shown at times," Cohen said. "There are times where we not have been as productive as we want to be, but it really bodes well for the future and will get better. Every experience they have in the postseason like the SEC Tournament, like the regional, is really going to help them in the future as well.
"Demarcus Henderson is a great athlete with the things he brings to the table. Britton is going to be a great player for us, Daryl Norris has fought through some really tough times with his knee, and what can you say about Frazier. He's been outstanding for us."
Cohen said when considering the amounts of starts one through nine for opponents of the Bulldogs in the SEC and compare it to his lineup, the youth shows.
"A guy like Wes, before this year, never played, and you go up and down (the lineup), Mitch Slauter (junior college) never played and Adam Frazier just a little and Hunter Renfroe (sophomore) just a little bit, Norris just a little bit, Henderson never played and Brent Brownlee (senior) because of injury really never played as much as we wanted him too," Cohen said. "You are talking about a pretty inexperienced group that hopefully is coming together at the right time of the year."
MSU has an 11 a.m. encounter set with the Samford Bulldogs today and Rea looks for the postseason run to continue for his team.
"We're looking to stay hot and hope to go as deep as we can," Rea said. "(Coaches) have told us since day one that this is a special team and we believe that. We're treating every game like there is no tomorrow."
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