College World Series Notebook Tuesday Edition

OMAHA -- Wes Rea is justly famed in college ball circles—or on diamonds?—for his physique. Even after ten days in Omaha, or for that matter a season's worth of exposure in both the SEC and on a national television scale, he still draws double-takes from fans and media alike. And when Rea makes another remarkable defensive play, they just plain stare at someone that size with such athletic gifts.

Yet even the biggest guy in the ballyard isn't invulnerable to bad breaks of the game. And Rea is hurting on two limbs today. The first hurting came on a collision with UCLA's Brian Carroll after a sacrifice bunt up the third base line. C Nick Ammirati got to it ahead of LHP Chad Girodo but had to spin and fire in the same motion for any chance at an out. As it played out letting Carroll go would have been best for everyone, especially Rea.

Because as Rea tried to position himself to knock down the wild throw it left him poorly positioned to take Carroll's collision. Of course this also spared the 177-pound Bruin the damage because he had momentum to make up for 100 pounds of off-balance difference. He caught Rea around the kneecap with his own knee, spinning Rea around and down for a scary minute.

"I tried everything I could to get the ball in front of me, but unfortunately we hit knee to knee." Rea got up and kept playing…and in the eighth inning took a Zack Weiss fastball off his left elbow. It mostly hit the protective pad with a loud whack, "But it also caught a little bit of muscle."

This meant some training-room time for Rea. Though as he said, "If you're wondering if I'm playing tomorrow, the answer is yes." Because it would take some broken bones and a SWAT team to keep Rea off the field. Maybe.

PAINTING THE TOWN MAROON: Omaha hoteliers and ticket brokers reported how within moments of Mississippi State's Friday bracket-title victory, their switchboards lit-up and stayed that way for hours. Bulldog fans who'd held off making this long trip had found the passion, and the funds in most cases, for a fast trip here. The town was buzzing by Saturday even as the first wave arrived and Monday morning Ameritrade Park was surrounded by a maroon-and-white horde, even during the thunderstorming.

As home team for game-one the Bulldogs were taking BP first, and thus when the gates were opened to admit the lucky lottery winners for general admission tickets. They raced, literally, to outfield seats and filled both left and right sides before the last practice cuts. Media had all the made-to-order ‘color' stories they needed working the waiting lines or catching frantic fans still seeking tickets at the inflated (of course) prices.

By game time Mississippi State officials estimated, aided by the Park, that some 8,000 Bulldog fans were in the stadium. That was among a total gate of 25,690, or about a third of the whole. And this might have under-counted since no small number of State folk have been in town since the Series started; some even telling reporters their jobs back home were now in jeopardy for over-staying vacations!

"It shows how much the fans support us and are behind us," 2B Brett Pirtle said. "And it shows how much they love the game, as much as we do."

"We have a bunch of fans and they're great," LHP Chad Girodo said. "They always show tons of support and it's just great to be in the opportunity we're in."

Be assured coaches and MSU officials see an opportunity in this headline-grabbing turnout, too. "We love our fans," said Cohen. "A lot of them are giving up vacations, giving up work time, giving up everything to be here for our baseball program. It means a lot before, and it means a lot after."

Yes, after. Because this show of support is bound to make the interlinked amateur baseball circles and get prospects everywhere wondering…what must it be like playing for such passionate people, instead of attending a college where the game is an afterthought? No doubt State will use this in recruiting, along with University marketing and promotions.

NO BLUES HERE: Also, give the Bruins some credit for using a reverse-underdog mentality Monday. They knew UCLA supporters would be few; devout, but few. Coach John Savage applauded Bulldog folk for showing up. "They're classy fans, they love baseball, I think you just have to tip your hat," he said.

But, Savage added, "We've embraced that stadium-against-us philosophy. We're a top-five, top-ten team and we're forced to get a thousand people (Jackie Robinson Stadium seats 1,800), and we're starting to get better You've gotta grow it, and we think they will come. But you've gotta tip your hat to the fans of Mississippi State."

OOOPS: There was some pregame confusion by stadium staff over whether cowbells were allowed in Ameritrade Park. At one point word was circulated, apparently with the approval of managers MECA, that Bulldog fans could bring their beloved bells inside and ring away.

This surprised the NCAA, which has a no-noisemakers policy at post-season events. Not until the game was underway did a NCAA media representative explain to the press corps that the issue had been confused and no, cowbells were still not legal for the College World Series. By then it didn't matter much as fans already present with bells were using them, but in such limited numbers there was no real distraction. However, the Tuesday game will likely check for such items and turn them away.

Crowd control at the Series has been something of an increasing issue. The famed practice of beachball bouncing between innings has survived moving from Rosenblatt Stadium, but is now openly discouraged. Stadium grounds crew no longer throw those reaching the field back into the bleachers, but store them in bullpens…something several Bulldogs have taken advantage of for ‘rally balls' and such.

So far though there has been no repeat of the embarrassing fans-on-the-field incidents of a year ago. Stadium staff even monitor social networks now as that is how such antics have been planned by non-baseball fans just there to show off themselves.

MEMENTO TIME: There was an interesting moment when the top of Monday's ninth inning ended as UCLA runner Carroll was caught stealing. SS Adam Frazier made the tag, then rolled the ball towards the mound as usual. Girodo retrieved it in passing, stuck it in a pocket and went to the dugout.

Asked afterwards if he'd done because he figured it was the last ball he had pitched in a college game, and in the College World Series at that, Girodo denied any such notion of emotion.

"I mean, I could very well come back and pitch in the third game. I don't know, just the moment I saw the ball rolling around I picked it up and put it in my back pocket." It was still there a half-hour later, too.

If any Bulldog pitcher has earned right to some post-season souvenirs it is Girodo. The senior, barely used last season for ineffectiveness, has been simply brilliant in this NCAA Tournament. His nine strikeouts in long Monday relief over 7.2 innings gives Girodo 41 strikeouts in the last four outings, totaling 27 innings.

For context, in his first three State seasons he had 63 strikeouts in 86.0 innings. So over a magnificent month Girodo has essentially had a career. And, earned a good shot at a professional career as a 9th-round draftee of Toronto.

ONE LETTER DIFFERENT: Credit State fans, who post on Dawgs' Bite, for pointing it out first. As soon as UCLA locked up the other College World Series championship round berth, comparisons to a similarly-acronymed club popped up on message boards.

Fans saw a gameplan much too similar to what Mississippi State faced during both the regular- and post-seasons from UCA. Central Arkansas, the lone non-conference team to defeat the Bulldogs in all 2013. The Bears (another similarity) took a three-game series from the Dogs in March, then split twice in the Starkville Regional. It took one of State's best all-around efforts of the year to finally shake those Bears off in the Regional title game.

Central Arkansas frustrated State in six meetings with sound enough pitching, sharp (until the last time) defense, and just plain opportunistic offense that always seemed able to cash-in on any mistake handed them. Now the Bulldogs find themselves facing a similar style, and a frustrating one for sure, with the national championship at stake.

"I think they're a lot like Central Arkansas," Girodo said. "They make you throw strike-one, they're very action-oriented. They'll fake bunt, do they'll do whatever it takes to get on base. And that's the sign of a good club."

But UCLA does feature one decisive advantage over UCA, which is also putting State at risk here: the Bruins have better starting pitching. Much, much better starting pitching. Or as Eric Filia, the game's hitting and fielding star , said "Basically we just know our pitching is phenomenal."

Which no Dog could argue at all. What Girodo will say is having seen UCA (or UCLA Lite) and now the really real thing, State ought to be ready for a rematch. "Now we know how they play I think we're very capable of coming out and winning two."

Or as Pirtle put it, "Putting pressure on them will help us win the game tomorrow."

STREAKING, OR NOT: Pirtle was the only Dog with two hits in Monday's game-one. The first safety extended his streak of games-reaching to 43 now.

But Frazier, who was 12-of-23 in the last five NCAA Tournament games, went 0-of-4. He'd last been held hitless by (wait for it) Central Arkansas on June 2.

Rea had his five-game hitting streak snapped. He'd been 6-of-13 in Omaha up to Monday with three two-hit games.

And team-wise, UCLA handed Mississippi State its first loss of this season on a non-weekend day. Until now the Dogs were perfect playing Monday-through Thursday.

Gene's Page Top Stories