HOOVER, Ala. – Hot bats and solid pitching carried the No. 24 Mississippi State Bulldogs into the second round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
MSU used those areas to knock off No. 25 Arkansas 9-1 on Tuesday afternoon.
Wes Rea lifted a ball over the left field fence in the second inning to provide all the run support Bulldog pitching needed. It was a three-run shot, which made the 1-for-41 slump Rea was mired in just a week ago, seem like a lifetime ago.
“It was a fastball in and I had seen pitches from that guy before so I was sitting on the fastball,” Rea said. “I was really, with runners on second and third, just trying to get under something to the outfield for an RBI situation, but with (Ryne Stanek’s) velocity, the ball will jump on you. It did there.”
The inning began with a walk to Hunter Renfroe followed by a one-out double from Demarcus Henderson, setting runners at second and third with one out. Rea then cleared the bases with the shot that gave MSU the early 3-0 lead, an advantage it held on to until the sixth inning.
“We got the big blow early from Wes and what that did was allow our kids the opportunity to relax and just play,” Bulldog head coach John Cohen said. “Those older guys that went through that run we had last year desperately want to go through a run like that again. Our leadership on this club has allowed our freshmen to grow up a little bit faster."
While State managed the early lead, the ballgame wasn’t without trying moments for the freshman Brandon Woodruff who picked up the first SEC start of his career.
“Coming in, I was a little anxious," Woodruff said. "After I got in and settled down, I was alright. After Wes got his home run, I was really able to settle in and focus on getting strikes and let my defense work. I found out (Monday) on Twitter (he was starting), not from coach (Cohen) but from the media.”
The Razorbacks had runners on second and third in the first inning before Woodruff struck out Derrick Bleeker, the Arkansas left fielder. In the third and fifth innings, the Hogs threatened but Woodruff and the MSU defense had the moxie to make the pitches and plays when they needed them the most.
Woodruff exited the game following the fifth inning when he allowed just two hits while striking out five.
The Hogs broke through in the sixth when a rally started with two outs. Bo Bigham doubled down the line in left followed by an infield single from John Clay Reeves. Then with Ross Mitchell entering the game for Caleb Reed, Matt Vinson singled through the right side scoring Mitchell from third, but the damage ended there when Tim Carver lined out to centerfield.
State held the two-run lead at 3-1 heading into the ninth when timely hitting, Arkansas errors, and aggressive base running led to a six-run top of the ninth for the Bulldogs, pushing the lead to 9-1.
At the plate, MSU turned in nine hits for the game with Adam Frazier continuing to be a spark, going 3-for-4 with a walk. Henderson, who earned the start in left field, went 2-for-5 with a pair of runs scored.
On the mound, the Bulldogs used four pitchers with Reed throwing 2/3 of a innings allowing a run on two hits. Mitchell pitched 1 2/3 innings allowing three hits before turning the game over to Jonathan Holder to pick up his seventh save of the season with 1 2/3 innings of work and not allowing a hit. He has now run his streak to 24 1/3 innings without allowing a run to score.
The reward for winning the first round game is a date with the top overall seed, LSU. MSU is set to throw Chris Stratton against the Tigers. Earlier in the season the right-hander had a career-high 17 strikeout in Baton Rouge.
The game will begin 30 minutes following the Arkansas-Ole Miss outing, the first game of the morning session.