OMAHA—Wes Rea knew what he was looking for, and he didn’t miss it.
With Mississippi State down 4-3 with two on and two out in the eighth inning, Rea stepped in to face Oregon State’s Matt Boyd with only one pitch in mind: changeup. When Boyd tried start him with one, Rea was ready and drilled it into the right-center-field gap.
|Game At A Glance|
|Turning Point: Even though Mississippi State had two righties and a switch-hitter coming up, OSU coach Pat Casey chose to bring in ace lefty Matt Boyd in the decisive eighth inning. Two of those three batters got hits, capped by Wes Rea’s game-winning double.
The Hero: Rea picked up where left off in super regionals, where he had four hits (including a homer) in the Bulldogs’ two-game sweep of Virginia. He also doubled and scored a run in the second inning as a prelude to his go-ahead hit in the eighth.
You Might Have Missed: Michael Conforto looked at home on the big stage. The Beavers star left fielder went 4-for-4, roping a pair of doubles, and reached base in all five trips to the plate. He also gunned down a runner at the plate in the second.
“I think he was probably going to go for a strikeout in that situation,” Rea said. “He was getting swings on changeups. I went up there sitting changeup, and fortunately he threw one in the middle of the plate I was able to do something with.”
Both runners came around to score, putting the Bulldogs up 5-4, and they held on to take the opener of the College World Series by that score Saturday afternoon in Omaha.
“The swing Wes takes is really symbolic of what he’s been doing for the last three weeks, really,” Bulldogs coach John Cohen said, “punching the ball in the middle of the field and just getting big, big hits for us.”
Rea’s hit made for a memorable ending, but the start of the afternoon was ugly for the Bulldogs. Shortstop Adam Frazier doubled to lead off the game but promptly got himself into a rundown and tagged out when the next hitter bounced one back to the pitcher. In the bottom of the first, third baseman Sam Frost threw the ball away on a grounder from Beavers leadoff man Tyler Smith, eventually leading to two unearned runs.
At the same time, the Beavers were hardly playing lockdown defense themselves. Left fielder Michael Conforto misplayed Frazier’s double, and right fielder Dylan Davis kicked one around in the second inning that helped bring in a run for the Bulldogs, part of a three-run rally that gave MSU a 3-2 lead.
Whatever nerves may have been affecting his teammates, Beavers starter Andrew Moore quelled them quickly. The unflappable freshman settled in after the Bulldogs’ three-run second and allowed only one hit over the next five innings. Moore went on to pitch into the eighth inning—the seventh time in his last eight starts he has gone at least that long.
The Bulldogs got 4 2/3 innings out of sinkerballer Kendall Graveman, but their bullpen is the strength of their staff—their starters have gone less than five innings in 10 of their last 12 games. After Oregon State retook the lead in the fifth on a Davis RBI groundout, Cohen turned things over to lefty Ross Mitchell.
“We knew it was going to take a village of pitchers to get this done,” Cohen said. “That’s kind of how we’ve done it.”
Mitchell and closer Jonathan Holder combined on 4 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, keeping the Beavers in check and giving MSU’s offense a chance to rally.
Oregon State was 42-3 when leading after seven, and the eighth figured to be the Bulldogs’ last, best chance to come back, with the top of their order coming up against a tiring Moore. The Beavers starter had retired eight in a row until giving up a one-out single to Alex Detz, at which point OSU coach Pat Casey summoned Boyd. The Beavers’ Friday starter all year, Boyd worked in relief to close out their super regional against Kansas State and, with trusted lefty Max Engelbrekt unavailable with a back issue, Casey turned to his senior ace once more.
Hunter Renfroe greeted Boyd by lacing one back through the box that glanced off Boyd’s leg and went for an infield hit. Boyd came back to strike out Brett Pirtle, but that set the stage for Rea. One misplaced changeup later, the Bulldogs had taken the lead.
The Bulldogs were hardly home free though. Holder came in and put out a two-on, one-out fire in the bottom of the eighth, and then the bottom of the ninth raised the blood pressure in the Bulldogs’ dugout a few notches higher. A single and a walk put the winning run on first with one out before Holder won a lengthy battle with Davis, finally getting him to wave at a 2-2 curveball on the seventh pitch of the at-bat.
That brought up Beavers first baseman Danny Hayes, who also worked the count to 2-2. Holder tried to go back to the curveball, but he didn’t get it where he wanted and Hayes put a charge into it.
“I think everybody might have had a shaky feeling there,” Holder said. “I left a curveball hanging there for a second, and he hit it pretty good. I thought he might have got it a little off the end of the bat and the wind helped me out a little bit.”
There was just enough wind, and TD Ameritrade Park was just spacious enough to contain Hayes’ drive, which Renfroe caught on the warning track.
“This group never quits,” Cohen said. “They will never give in. The character of this bunch is unbelievable. We can do some pretty dumb things and still find a way to win a ballgame, because of the competitive nature of our kids.”