By Hank Kurz/The Associated Press
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Wes Rea waited for the ball to get to first base with Derek Fisher chugging down the line.
When it did, and in just enough time to get Fisher out by a step, his gutsy fall prediction had come true.
“Book your rooms,” he’d tweeted then, telling Bulldogs fans their season would end at the College World Series.
And it will.
The Bulldogs held on for a 6-5 victory against Virginia on Monday in the completion of a suspended game, sweeping the No. 6 national seed. They are Omaha-bound for the first time since 2007, and the only time they had to sweat in the entire weekend was during a sloppy ninth inning.
“I feel like I caught it right behind the pitcher’s mound,” Rea said of the throw from third baseman Alex Detz for the final out, killing a two-run rally and stranding runners on third and second. “It’s an unbelievable feeling. It’s something I really can’t describe.”
It capped a weekend where the Bulldogs dominated one of the nation’s top teams, first by pounding Virginia pitching for 20 hits in an 11-6 opening victory, and then by getting 10 more in the second game, which was interrupted in the middle of the seventh by a rain delay that suspended play overnight.
It will be the first College World Series under coach John Cohen, and 1990 Mississippi State graduate.
“They all wanted to be in Omaha,” Cohen said of his players, “but that was not the goal. Their goal is to try to win the whole thing. We’re excited, but at the same time, I think we still have some journey to go.”
They looked the part against the Cavaliers (50-12), who had lost just three times in 38 home games before the Bulldogs arrived.
Adam Frazier, who was 6-for-6 in the opener with three RBIs, had two more hits and two RBIs in the second game, and Rea hit a two-run home run as the Bulldogs built a 5-1 lead. The Cavaliers scored two runs in the top of the sixth to get within 5-3, but were otherwise shut down by reliever Chad Girodo, who struck out 10 in just 4 2-3 innings and stranded seven base runners, leaving when the skies opened, forcing the last two innings to be played on Monday.
Mississippi State (48-18) added an insurance run in the seventh, again with help from shoddy fielding by the Cavaliers, whose uncharacteristic sloppiness all weekend made the outcome especially disappointing to coach Brian O’Connor. Virginia made seven errors in the two games, and allowed seven unearned runs.
“You cannot win this time of the year unless you pitch and play good defense, and we didn’t do it,” O’Connor said.
The Bulldogs almost learned that in excruciating fashion in the ninth, even with closer Jonathan Holder on the mound.
Holder came into the game with eye-popping numbers — a 1.17 earned run average and 81 strikeouts in 46 innings — but gave up a leadoff single to Kenny Towns and walked Mike Papi with one out. Jared King struck out looking for the second out, but Joe McCarthy hit a soft grounder to third and just beat the throw as a run scored. Brandon Downed then grounded to first, and Rea picked it up and tried to flip it to Holder covering, but Holder took his eyes off the play, slipped and missed the ball, the crowd going wild as it trickled into the Virginia dugout with the score now 6-5.
But with runners on third and second, Holder got Derek Fisher to bounce to third for the final out.
In the seventh, Hunter Renfroe doubled inside the first base bag and Joe McCarthy misplayed the ball, allowing Renfroe to take third. Virginia walked Rea intentionally, and Renfroe scored when C.T. Bradford hit a sinking line drive that it looked like McCarthy would catch, but which bounced behind him.
“It just felt like in the two-game series, you couldn’t get them out,” O’Connor said.
Girodo (8-1) got the victory and Virginia starter Scott Silverstein (10-2) took the loss. Holder earned his 18th save.
Read more in Tuesday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.