The Bulldogs (35-21) won a conference tournament game for the first time since the 2005 season. MSU, the tournament's seventh seed, will now face No. 2 LSU (42-14), the tournament's top seed, in a second-round matchup Wednesday. That game will start 30 minutes after the completion of the 9:30 a.m. elimination game between Ole Miss and Arkansas.
For the second time in three games, the Bulldogs swung the momentum in a contest with a massive three-run home run. This time, the big blow came courtesy of Wes Rea, who launched his fifth round-tripper of the year over the left center field wall.
"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."
That home run placed the Maroon and White in a commanding 3-0 lead in the top half of the second inning. From there, the MSU pitching quartet of Brandon Woodruff, Caleb Reed, Ross Mitchell and Jonathan Holder kept the Hogs uncalled.
Woodruff (1-2), a true freshman from Wheeler, pitched the first five innings, while earning his first win in the Maroon and White. The right-hander allowed two hits and no runs, with five strikeouts and one walk. Woodruff faced 22 batters and threw 72 pitches. He was aided by two different 1-2-3 innings in the field.
"I was anxious and nervous before my first SEC start sure but I eventually got settled down," Woodruff said. "Then Wes's home run really allowed me to just throw strikes."
Jonathan Holder then brought the Dogs home with his seventh save. Holder, a true freshman from Gulfport, worked around one walk to get five outs during the six batters he faced. Holder has not allowed a run in 24.1 innings of work this season. Of the MSU pitching quartet, three of four were freshmen.
"We got the big blow early from Wes and what that did was allow our kids the opportunity to relax and just play," MSU 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."
MSU blew the contest open by sending 10 batters to the plate during a six-run ninth inning. For the Bulldogs, it was their largest inning against a conference opponent this season. MSU benefited greatly from two Arkansas errors in that at-bat, as all six of the runs were unearned.
MSU finished with nine hits, while beating Arkansas for the first time in five SEC tournament meetings. Arkansas finished with seven hits, including multiple hits for Matt Vinson.
Adam Frazier led the Bulldogs with his fifth three-hit game of the season. A dominant force in the field, the Bulldog shortstop had two nifty defensive gems, including a deep in the hole stab to start an inning-ending double play in the seventh inning. Second baseman Matthew Brinson also snagged a line drive, to prevent an extra-base hit.
While the Bulldogs did make two errors, the defensive brilliance offset the miscues. Woodruff also got a bouncer back to the mound to start a pitcher-catcher-first baseman double play to end the fifth inning.
Henderson added his second straight multi-hit game and seventh of the season. Rea drove in three runs for the fourth time this season and also walked a season-best three times.
Stanek (6-4) threw 5.2 innings and took the loss. Stanek allowed four hits and three runs (all earned), with seven strikeouts and five walks. Brandon Moore, Barrett Astin and Chris Oliver all followed. The trio allowed five hits but was undone by the Arkansas defensive issues in the ninth inning.