OMAHA, Neb. – Mississippi State’s Wes Rea went to bat in the eighth inning expecting to see a changeup, and Oregon State pitcher Matt Boyd didn’t disappoint him.
Rea drove the ball into right-center for a two-run double that gave the Bulldogs the lead, and closer Jonathan Holder worked out of trouble twice to secure a 5-4 victory Saturday in the opening game of the College World Series.
“I’m fortunate enough I’ve been up at the plate in these situations and have been able to get it done,” Rea said. “It’s something I take a lot of pride in when there are runners in scoring position.”
The Bulldogs (49-18) advanced to a Monday game against Indiana or Louisville. The Beavers (50-12), the No. 3 national seed, are one loss from elimination.
There still were some anxious moments for the Bulldogs after Rea’s big hit.
Oregon State had two runners on base with one out in the eighth, but Holder got a flyout and struck out pinch-hitter Joey Jansen.
The Beavers had two runners on base with one out again in the ninth after Holder pitched carefully to Michael Conforto and walked him. It wasn’t bad strategy. Conforto had reached base four times.
“I definitely didn’t want Conforto to beat me,” Holder said. “He had been pretty hot early in the game so I was kind of taking a pattern-two kind of mentality to him. I wasn’t going to let him really get off a good swing and hurt us, so I was all right with the walk and try to get a groundball with the next guy.”
Holder actually struck out the next batter, Dylan Davis, before Danny Hayes drove a ball to right that Hunter Renfroe caught on the warning track to end the game. Hayes threw his helmet to the ground as Renfroe gloved the ball, and the Bulldogs came pouring out of the dugout in celebration.
“Yeah, I think everybody might have had a shaky feeling there,” said Holder, who earned his 19th save.
Renfroe’s hard comebacker off the leg of Boyd (10-4) put runners on first and second in the eighth for the Bulldogs. Rea then drove Boyd’s first-pitch changeup into the right-center gap. Andy Detz scored easily and Renfroe beat second baseman Andy Peterson’s relay throw home.
“The swing Wes makes is symbolic of what he’s been doing the last three weeks,” Bulldogs coach John Cohen said. “He’s been crunching the ball and he’s getting big, big hits for us.”
Ross Mitchell (13-0) pitched 2 2-3 shutout innings before turning the game over to Holder.
Oregon State starter Andrew Moore turned in a strong performance after giving up three runs in the second inning.
Moore, the Pac-12 freshman of the year, came into the game off wins in seven straight games and had worked eight or more innings in five of his previous six starters.
Moore missed up with his fastball early but settled down to retire 18 of 20 batters before Detz singled with one out in the eighth.
“Mo had one bad inning and got real sharp,” Oregon State coach Pat Casey said. “We’re playing a club that’s got really good pitching out of the ’pen. When we get 10 hits, we’ve got to be better. We didn’t execute in certain situations. And like always, little things win and lose big games.”
Conforto, the Pac-12 player of the year, matched his career high with four hits. He doubled twice, threw out Sam Frost at the plate from left field to end the second inning and made a sprinting catch on Rea’s short fly to start the fourth.
Kendall Graveman came in as the only Mississippi State starter to pitch out of the fourth inning in 10 postseason games. He left after Davis’ RBI groundout gave the Beavers a 4-3 lead in the fifth.
Mississippi State overcame Adam Frazier’s early base-running mistake, a bad decision by left fielder Demarcus Henderson that led to a triple, and Frost’s throwing error at third that led to two Oregon State runs.
“We can do some pretty dumb things and still find a way to win a ball game,” Cohen said, “because of the competitive nature of our kids.”