By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
OMAHA, Neb. – During the postgame interview Monday night, Wes Rea had to give Jonathan Holder a hard time for the throw he’d made for the final out of Mississippi State’s 5-4 win over Indiana.
Holder, MSU’s closer, had fielded a tapper in front of the plate and then bounced the throw to Rea at first base. Rea managed to trap the ball between his bare hand and his glove, and the tying run was stranded at third base.
When asked about that play, the 6-foot-5, 272-pound Rea reminded everyone present of the toss he’d made to Holder in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the Charlottesville Super Regional the weekend before. Holder missed that throw at first base, but State held on to win the game.
“Here we go again, bottom of the ninth, tough situation,” Rea said. “And I guess you can say that my feed was definitely better than his that he gave me tonight to handle.
“We know the better athlete of the two is who caught the best ball, is all I’ve gotta say.”
Holder smiled as others chuckled, and it was a light-hearted moment for a team that’s just one win away from playing in the CWS championship series. MSU takes on either Indiana or Oregon State on Friday – those two meet today in an elimination game.
But if Rea doesn’t make that play Monday, the end result could’ve been different. It was just another clutch moment for the third-year sophomore, who’s been as valuable as anyone during MSU’s postseason run.
swinging the hot bat
In eight NCAA tournament games, Rea is batting .367 (11 of 30) with eight RBIs. His run-scoring single to right field in the sixth inning Monday got the Bulldogs within 3-2.
In the key three-run eight, Rea singled to right and scored the go-ahead run.
“The first one was just a hit. I was just trying to punch something the other way,” Rea said. “The second hit was actually a hit-and-run, so in that situation you want to try to hit one to the right side of the field to give your guy an opportunity to go from first to third if you do get a hit.”
Those two opposite-field hits are typical of Rea’s offensive approach this season, especially the postseason. His two-out, two-run double in the eighth inning against Oregon State – to right-center field – lifted MSU to a 5-4 win on Saturday.
“I’ve been getting a lot of good pitches to hit lately, and I haven’t been missing them,” said Rea, who’s batting .296 with 40 RBIs on the year.
As his ninth-inning scoop against Indiana highlighted, Rea is just as valuable defensively. He’s made four errors all season for a .992 fielding percentage, and he’s the only Bulldog infielder not to make at least one error during NCAA play.
When Rea reached base in the eighth inning, Cohen didn’t pinch run for him because of his defense.
“The issue becomes, who do we put at first base?” Cohen said.
“Now we have some solid options there. We have a Daryl Norris, certainly we can move (Alex) Detz over there.
“But (Rea) is such a dynamic defender, you just don’t want to take that element away from our club at that moment.”
Holder was sure glad Rea stayed in the game.
“I do thank Wes for scooping that ball up and getting me,” Holder said. “Maybe I owe him a little something.”