Wes Rea broke out of his hitting slump while Chris Stratton was doing things like Chris Stratton does on the mound for the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Thursday night.
Rea and Stratton helped the Bulldogs take the opening game from the Kentucky Wildcats 3-1 in Southeastern Conference action at Dudy Noble Field.
Mississippi State (32-21 overall, 14-14 SEC) and No. 5 Kentucky (41-13, 18-10) were locked in a pitcher’s dual in the fourth inning until Rea snapped his 1-for-41 skid at the plate with a two RBI single to left giving the Bulldogs the 2-0 advantage.
“This is the game we have to win and this is the manner in which we have to win it,” said MSU head coach John Cohen. “We’ve got to pressure defenses and we’ve got to put guys in motion. We are very successful with that.”
The home half of the fourth began when Trey Porter was hit by a pitch from UK starter Taylor Rogers with one out. Mitch Slauter then doubled down the line in left before Brent Brownlee became the second Bulldog in the frame to be hit by a pitch. With the bases load, Rea put MSU on the board.
“I think he is establishing some rhythm,” said Cohen. “He has had struggles but he is going to end up being a very good player because he has a very high baseball IQ and he is going to figure it out.”
Rea has struggles at the plate over the past three weeks have been primarily due to an injury to his right shoulder, limiting his ability to reach the outside half of the plate.
“His shoulder has been killing him but he just keeps playing through it,” said Cohen. “He is such a good defender you have to have him in the lineup.”
As expected, Rea was in a jovial mood after the game.
“It just feels good for y’all to ask to interview me again,” said Rea after his 2-for-4 performance. “I had a couple of at-bats early that made me think I was going to break through. Honestly, it was the line drive to center when the swing felt like it was back to being right.”
Kentucky got on the board in the sixth with a two-out double from Luke Maile scoring Brian Adams from third to cut the lead to one at 2-1.
The Bulldogs answered in the home half of the inning with an RBI safety squeeze from Sam Frost allowing Slauter to score from third.
With the win, Stratton picked up his 10th win of the season marking the first MSU pitcher to do so since Paul Maholm in 2002. He also tied Jeff Brantley for seventh on the single season strikeout total with 115. Stratton climbed into sixth position all-time with 267 strikeouts passing Mike Proffitt.
For the game, the Tupelo product went 6.1 innings allowing one run on six hits with eight strikeouts.
“They are a good hitting team and they were just going down and getting them,” said Stratton, who claimed he wasn’t as sharp Thursday as he has been. “Some of the pitches were up but most of them were down. I’m glad Hunter (Renfroe) was making some plays.”
At the plate, the Bulldogs out hit Kentucky 8-7 with Slauter and Rea leading the way with a pair of hits each.
In Friday’s second game of the series, Kendall Graveman takes the mound with a 3-3 record and a 2.64 ERA. First pitch is slated for 7:06 with senior night festivities prior to the game.