And the Bulldog first baseman got it in the bottom of the 12th inning. Rea took the 1-1 offering from South Alabama’s Tyler Huffer and drove it. Really drove it, high and long and so obviously out that the Jaguar leftfielder stopped after two steps to watch. Rea’s one-out, two-run shot was what Mississippi State needed to take a 2-0 victory at Dudy Noble Field. The Bulldogs improved to 21-12 while South Alabama left 12-21.
And left bitter. The scrappy Jaguars took advantage of State’s offensive issues to hang eleven zeroes on the scoreboard’s lower line, while coming very close twice to taking leads that would likely have held up. A close ground-ball out in the ninth inning and a far closer out call at home plate in the eleventh were required for the Bulldogs to hold a shutout long enough for something big to happen. Fittingly it was the biggest Dog on the field delivering as Rea notched his third home run of the freshman season.
“Yeah, I knew I got that one. I had a couple earlier in the year that fell at the wall, but I got all of it.”
Up to then State had stranded no less than 14 baserunners in eleven innings. And given the 0-4 record in overtime games up to then, every extra frame amplified the anxiety. Huffer set up the opportunity though as he nailed leadoff batter Demarcus Henderson. State could not bunt him over as CF C.T. Bradford popped up to the catcher, but Henderson was still safe on first base and Rea ready to swing away.
“They tried to come in three times in a row, and kind of got me off guard the first two. I just said I’m going to sit on that one pitch and try to do something with it.” With the walk-off as a result.
Huffer, fourth Jaguar pitcher of the evening, took the loss in his first decision. State sent six to the mound and Trevor Fitts (3-0) was on the record when Rea went long. Fitts had entered in the eleventh and escaped on a brilliant Bradford throw-home of a Drew Cofield single to centerfield. USA’s Nolan Early was running from second base and seemed to get a leg in under C Mitch Slauter’s tag. But umpire Rickey Armstrong saw an out and called it, stranding two other runners.
Fitts sat the side in the 12th with both his strikeouts for the game, allowing a hit and a walk to get the win.
The real pitching power came from State starter Brandon Woodruff. Making his first opening appearance—other midweek chances were lost to weather—the true freshman put in a starting debut to remember. He worked six hitless and scoreless innings with one walk against him and eight strikeouts for him.
“I was expecting to go three or four innings,” Woodruff said. “I stretched it a little bit, and he went ahead and took me out to get the other guys in.” Removing the righthander with a no-hitter (the walk had come in the second inning) aggravated a few fans, but Coach John Cohen wasn’t just going by a script.
“I thought Brandon was obviously outstanding. He got to the 60 pitch mark and told Butch Thompson ‘I think I’m done’. That’s exactly what you expect because he hasn’t been close to that pitch count.” It was 67 pitches for the record, by far the freshman’s longest stint to-date. “But I know we did the right thing because we have to protect him.”
Ross Mitchell threw the seventh with a walk and double-play, and Luis Pollorena had a harmless eighth. Jonathan Holder had more stress in the ninth though, with one-out and two-out singles and an intentional walk loading all bases. 3B Sam Frost had to hustle on a deep grounder and got the throw to first just in front of Cofield, to the frustration of the visiting dugout.
Holder went 2.1 innings with five hits and four strikeouts, and put the go-ahead runner on in the eleventh before Chad Girodo got a strikeout and Fitts took over.
Jaguar starter Payton Gardner was a workhorse, lasting 6.2 innings with 124 pitches. Good ones mostly as he two-hit the Bulldog batters and struck out seven. Four walks got him in some trouble but a fly ball usually ended any threat as State couldn’t make good contact. Such as in the bottom of the sixth with three of those walks loading the bases before pinch-batter Brent Brownlee popped out. Jarrett Bailey went 1.0 in relief with a hit on his line, the Kyle Bartsch the next 1.1 before Huffer.
“We just weren’t very good offensively tonight,” Cohen said. “It’s always better on film than watching during the game, but if you look up and down the lineup the bottom part hurt us. We didn’t get a couple of bunts down. But defensively we did some brilliant things, we throw the runner out with a great tag and great throw by C.T. who’d been sitting three hours.” Bradford had only entered in the tenth, resting the still-healing shoulder, which is why he was in centerfield for the huge throw an inning later.
“Somebody was yelling ‘cut’ and I knew I couldn’t cut it, that’s a win-or-die,” said Rea. “C.T. made a heckuva throw.” Rea himself made a superb play on a 3-6-3 twin-killing in the very first inning for that matter. “A guy 290 pounds makes it look effortless,” said Cohen.
“Again we pitched it great, we had 16 punchouts which is a pretty good night’s work. But we’re got to get better offensively and everybody in the dugout knows that.” Rea was the only two-time hitter with a single and the homer, with singles by SS Adam Frazier, LF Trey Porter, and RF Tyler Fullerton accounting for all MSU offense. Six different Jaguars hit one single each.
The Bulldogs now have played a total of 13 extra innings in the five overtime games. And counting Sunday when Daryl Norris doubled-in the game winner against Vanderbilt, this was the second walk-off victory in a row. “We don’t necessarily like it like that,” said Rea. “But it’s good for the team.”
At which point the first baseman made another sort of walk-off, to wipe away the rest of the stinging shaving cream plastered in his face by a brave Caleb Reed to celebrate the moment.