HOOVER, Ala. – Mississippi State had been waiting for an inning similar to the sixth inning Tuesday night.
The tenth inning was not half bad either.
Pinch-hitter Wes Rea cranked a massive two-run double in the sixth inning to give the Bulldogs a lead but victory was not assured until Georgia threw away Jake Vickerson’s bunt attempt to score the game-winning run in the tenth inning.
MSU improved to 7-0 in extra-inning games with a 5-4 win over Georgia in the final game of the opening round of the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
The Bulldogs now advance to the eight-team double-elimination portion of the bracket. No. 5 seed MSU (36-20) will face No. 4 seed South Carolina (42-14) in a second-round tournament game Wednesday night. The contest is scheduled to start 30 minutes after the completion of the 4:30 p.m. game between Kentucky and Florida. The MSU contest will be televised regionally by Comcast Sports Southeast and shown nationally on ESPN3.
MSU won its tournament opener for a third straight season. The Bulldogs are 9-4 in this event under head coach John Cohen. The Bulldogs and Gamecocks meet Wednesday for the first time this season, while MSU finishes the season with three victories in four tries against Georgia.
While Rea had a critical hit Tuesday night, the game’s biggest storyline was junior left-handed pitcher Lucas Laster. In his first appearance versus Georgia this season, Laster recorded his second quality start and the team’s 20th of the season.
Laster pitched a career-high 8.1 innings, allowing five hits and two runs (both earned), with a career-high eight strikeouts and two walks. After being touched for two runs in the Georgia third inning, Laster settled down and retired the next nine in a row and 15 of the next 16 batters faced.
“Lucas was outstanding,” MSU head coach John Cohen said. “I am proud of him. He did exactly what you need in the first round of a tournament. I can’t say enough about what he has meant to us in his last five appearances.”
In relief, Jonathan Holder was touched for three consecutive hits allowing Georgia to tie. Holder (6-1) then responded to retired the side in order in the tenth inning to earn the win.
MSU built a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Seth Heck began the inning with a double and took third base when a sacrifice bunt attempt by Gavin Collins was erred. Cody Brown lined a sacrifice fly to down the left field line to bring Heck home.
Georgia (26-29-1) answered with its only offensive production in the third inning. Sean McLaughlin started the inning with a single. After a sacrifice bunt, McLaughlin took third base on a balk call. Laster then issued a walk to Stephen Wrenn. Connor Welton followed with an RBI-single, while the other score came home on a Hunter Cole ground out.
Thing stayed that way until the Maroon and White surged ahead in the sixth inning.
Brett Pirtle and Heck reached as back-to-back hit batsman to start the inning. Collins advanced both runners with a sacrifice bunt. Rea then took full advantage of this pinch hit opportunity lining the first pitch from Georgia left-hander Jarrett Brown to the right center gap for a two-run double. Pinch runner Derrick Armstrong later closed the scoring in that inning by alertly taking two bases on a ground ball out from Demarcus Henderson.
Georgia closed within one on a Sean McLaughlin RBI-single and tied the contest on an RBI-single by Jess Posey.
“Our kids feel really comfortable winning these types of games,” Cohen said. “Give credit to Georgia for three good swings to get back into the game. In the bottom half of the tenth inning, we executed perfectly to find a way to win the game. I hope the kids continue to play with this kind of confidence in extra innings.”
In the MSU tenth inning, Collins reached on a leadoff single. Armstrong then reached as a hit batsman on a bunt attempt. Vickerson then laid down a sacrifice bunt attempt, which was thrown down the first base line for the game-winning score.
MSU finished with 10 hits. Heck had multiple hitters and has now hit safely in 16 straight games. Rea had his 11th multi-RBI game of the season. Pirtle also had multiple hits.
Georgia finished with eight hits. Nelson Ward and had multiple hits. Starting pitcher Dylan Cole was lifted with one out in the sixth inning, while Jared Cheek (5-6) took the loss in relief.