"It was awesome for my last regular season game and possibly my last game as a Bulldog," said Lacher. "I knew today I had to put the team in a position to win. The bullpen had struggled a little bit last night and I felt like I needed to get us to at least the 7th inning. But when it got to that point, I didn't have a high pitch count and I was still throwing strikes, so I felt like I could finish it."
While Lacher was shutting down the Alabama hitters, the Bulldog hitters jumped on Alabama starting pitcher Andrew Walker for a run in the third inning. After Rea tripled down the right field line with two outs, Steve Gendron knocked him in with a single to right field to give the Bulldogs an early 1-0 lead.
In the fifth inning, the Bulldogs gave Lacher what turned out to be an insurmountable lead with a four-run outburst. Once again, Rea led the charge by singling to left field. Gendron followed with a double down the left field line. The Bulldogs loaded the bases when sophomore Brad Corley walked on four pitches. State scored their first run of the inning with a sacrifice fly by sophomore Brad Jones. Sophomore Craig Tatum followed with a 3-2 count home run that hit midway up the tree behind the fence in left field.
"I think he hit a changeup down," said Mississippi State coach Ron Polk. "It wasn't a bad pitch. Craig just went down and got it and hit it pretty good."
Alabama scored their only run of the game in the bottom half of the inning when Zac Welch doubled in Gabe Scott who had led off the inning with a single. When the Bulldogs attempted to get the man at home plate, Welch tried to advance to third but was gunned down by catcher Craig Tatum.
Alabama brought reliever Brent Carter in to start the 6th inning. The Bulldogs greeted him with two runs to go up 7-1. The inning started off easy enough for Carter when sophomore Joseph Hunter grounded into 6-4-3 double play after sophomore Thomas Berkery had led off the inning with a single. However, after sophomore Jeff Butts singled sharply to right field, Rea, already with two singles and a triple to his credit, hit a home run that just cleared the 365 foot sign in left field.
Rea wasn't sure if it was going out when he first hit it.
"I thought that the center fielder was going to catch it," said Rea, who now has 2 home runs for the year. "I guess the wind helped me out a little bit."
Carter settled down after that and allowed just one hit the rest of the way.
Lacher, after giving up the fifth-inning run, also settled down and allowed two hits and a walk the final four innings of the game. Alabama had a chance to score in the bottom of the 9th, but Lacher, with men on 1st and 2nd, struck out pinch-hitter Brandon Belcher and got Zac Welch to hit an easy grounder to first base for the final out of the game.
Lacher, in 9 innings, allowed 1 run (earned) on 5 hits, 1 walk and struck out 4 to earned his 4th victory in 10 decisions.
"My mom came down after the game and she and my dad were in tears," said Lacher. "I hope I get another chance to pitch in a regional but, if not, this was a great way to go out."
Walker, who was 3-1 with an ERA of 3.17 coming into the game, took the loss. During his 5 innings of work, he allowed 5 runs (all earned) on 7 hits and 3 walks while striking out 5. Carter allowed 2 runs on 6 hits and a walk over the final four innings of the game.
Mississippi State was led at the plate by Rea who had two singles, a triple and a home run as well as 2 RBI. For the weekend, Rea is 6-for-8. Steve Gendron was 3-for-5 with a double and 1 RBI. The only other Bulldog batter with multi hits was Brad Corley who was 2-for-3 with 2 walks.
Rea, who was in a slump for a couple of weeks, may have discovered his problem two weeks ago.
"I kind of couldn't see the ball that well for awhile and everything was kind of cloudy," said Rea, who was 5-for-47 with 17 strikeouts in the 10 games prior to this weekend's series. "I went to the eye doctor a couple of weeks ago and he discovered that my cornea was swollen. I guess it was because I never take my contacts out. Once I started taking them out, it cleared up. Now, I'm back to seeing the ball really well. It looks like a watermelon right now."
Gendron, with his three-hit day, passed former LSU great Todd Walker to move into 10th place among the league's all-time career hits leaders.
Alabama's Michael McCallister was 2-for-3 to lead the Crimson Tide.
The Bulldogs, winners of 5 of their last 6 games, conclude their three-game weekend series with Alabama and 2004 regular season schedules with a 1:30 p.m. Sunday matchup at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.
MISSISSIPPI STATE 7, ALABAMA 1
MSU 001 042 000 - 7-13-0
ALA 000 010 000 - 1-5-1
WP - Jeff Lacher (4-6) . LP - Andrew Walker (4-1) . HR - Craig Tatum (12), Jeffrey Rea (2). T - 2:17 . ATT - 4,554 (paid) .
I know you mentioned the thing about the contacts, but do you think playing almost double the games that you played in high school may have affected your play late in the season?
"It probably has physically and mentally. It wears and tears on your knees and back. Plus, we had exams and it was tough being on the road."
Your slump really started when you went to Vanderbilt and started off by facing Jeremy Sowers, a probably first-round draft pick in this June's Major League Baseball Draft. Do you think that also may have affected you hitting-wise?
"I think I tried too hard that game. I had heard that he throws 96. I tried to speed my swing up. Then I went to the eye doctor."
You went to the opposite field with a lot of your hits. Is that an indication of how well you are seeing the ball?
"Yeah, I have been rolling over and hitting a lot of big-hop ground balls to second base. I'm now trying to see everything deep and go to the opposite field as much as I can."
The team has won 5 of the last 6. Does that give you momentum for next year?
"We feel real good about how we are playing right now. We are a lot of young guys and I believe it will carry on over to next year, but we are still looking for a regional bid."
The breaks are finally going your way after so many went the other way during most of the season.
"Yeah, a lot of those balls hit up the middle that the second baseman and shortstop were making bare handed catches on are falling in for chink hits now or home runs that were getting rob on are now going over the fence."
About Jeffrey Rea's play.
"Probably not playing any midweek ballgames has probably helped Jeffrey more than anybody. He's a physically well-built kid, but I think he had gotten mentally and physically tired."
Jeff Lacher's performance.
"He got ahead in the count and wound up throwing just 104 pitches on a really hot day. He showed great senior leadership."
Steve Gendron's hitting and fielding.
"Steve played great today. He made all the plays at shortstop."
Defensive play of his team has improved over the past few games.
"Anytime you don't walk any or just one like Jeff did today, that makes it easier. And they hit a lot of routine fly balls and that always makes it easier."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher/owner of Gene's Page, the source for Mississippi State sports on TheInsiders.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.