"He won't let me sign it," Coach Ron Polk said. "I asked if he wanted me to sign it." Rea chose to leave the pearl marked only by his bat, and the glancing contact with the wall. In fact, the drive very nearly carried the top of the wall where it might have been harder to retrieve with nobody behind rightfield. Rea certainly wouldn't have minded setting the record with a two-run homer, but a double that set up State's most crucial offensive inning was satisfactory.
Not that he celebrated at the time, even as the helpful Seminoles sent the ball to the MSU dugout. Later on was another matter. "The emotions started kicking in once the game was out. In the heat of the game, scoreless, it was a big hit at the time it happened, it got me and Russ (Sneed) into scoring position. It kind of hit me after the game, everybody was congratulating and giving me hugs.
"It couldn't have happened at a better place, I'd much rather it happen at home but I'm just thankful that I've been healthy and God's given me the ability to do this. It's a great feeling. I think the win is even better." Especially if the W is key to Rea and this squad getting to play in super regional round for the first time. Polk has teased the senior about how being his "second favorite" player after Lee, but seriously appreciates what this record means in the context of all the names Rea has surpassed along the way.
Besides, Polk added, "He's still got a few more ball games to pad that lead so no one else maybe can break Jeffrey's record." Rea would like to keep this senior season going for the team, not a record, though he'll gladly keep moving the marker. "If not, it's been a good run," he said.
BIG SHOT: Meanwhile at the other end of the playing career spectrum, a Diamond Dog freshman scored his own piece of personal history. In the eighth inning Russ Sneed took the first pitch-fastball offered and drove it to the scoreboard in leftfield. It was Sneed's first home run as a Bulldog, coming on his 34th college at-bat. In fact, it was the rookie's first extra-base hit, period.
Maybe as remarkable was where Sneed went out. In the aftermath of a tropical disturbance that blew through in the morning, a steady wind was blowing straight-in from leftfield all day. It was a good thing for State, too, as in the top of the fifth inning with a 2-0 score FSU's Brandon Reichart had hit a high drive that almost surely would have gone out and tied the game if not for the prevailing breeze. In fact, later in the MSU eighth Edward Easley did the same thing with a big fly that died on the warning track.
Sneed took another approach, powering a line-shot right into the scoreboard area. "For some reason I thought it was going out off the bat," he said. "I wasn't thinking about the wind or anything."
Nor was freshman Sneed awed by Florida State's senior ace Bryan Henry. Sneed was feeling good after reaching base three times against Stetson the day before, with a RBI single, errored grounder, and intentional walk, and came in confident…if careful. "I knew they were going to try to work me away with fastballs and if I could jump on him early I wouldn't have to see that many more pitches. Luckily he missed a couple of spots and I took advantage of it."
Such as on his third-inning single that got State's two-run inning started. "He also hit a pea right at the rightfielder," Polk noted of a fifth-inning contact. "He had some good at-bats." But the homer was a much bigger deal, in more ways than one for Sneed. In the seventh he had bobbled a ground ball that should have ended the inning; instead it became the most serious crisis of the night for State and pitcher Justin Pigott.
"I was upset about not helping Pigott out the inning before," Sneed said. "I wanted to give the team a charge the next inning." He did, giving closer Aaron Weatherford that much more margin to pitch with…and setting a personal benchmark in the process. "It was just a great feeling, a lot of emotions on the field and the atmosphere was awesome. Probably not a better time in the world to get it then."
BEST-LAID PLANS: Saturday night showed why the big baseball book is often made meaningless. With Florida State throwing their premier righthander, the Bulldogs stacked their order with five true lefthanded batters and a switch-guy. Just like the aforementioned book says to do. For their part FSU lined up six true righthanders and a switch-hitter to swing against State southpaw Pigott.
The results for State? Half of the six hits, and two of the three RBI, were provided by righties Easley and Sneed. The latter also scored twice. But Sneed did say that there was reason to expect FSU's Hardy wouldn't pitch by the book. "On film we saw he'd been working pretty well against lefties. Their ballclub likes to ‘wrap' sliders, that's righties throwing the sliders to lefthanded hitters. Our lefthanders battled hard but I guess our righthanders swung a little better tonight."
PRIMO PIGOTT: While a couple of his teammates with bats enjoyed personal highlights, the night really belonged to Pigott as he kept FSU off the scoreboard his seven-plus innings in post-season pressure. But perhaps this shouldn't have been such a surprise as Pigott has been a tournament-time standout.
As a freshman reliever in the 2005 Miami Regional he got a no-decision in 4.2 relief innings. In 2006 at Clemson, Pigott saved a State win against UNC-Asheville and came back to start the next day with 8.0 innings to beat Elon. So for this low-key lefty tourney time seems to be his prime time, though he doesn't claim any special approach. "You just go out to pitch every day, execute and try to do your best and let everything fall into place."
That was really the case Saturday night because at first Pigott's pitches weren't falling into the precise right places he relies on. For an odd reason, too. "I had some life in the ball, finally," he explained. Due to the end-of-year schedule, with State's last regular-season series starting on Thursday and the SEC Tournament on Wednesday, Pigott threw his two games on four-rest days each time. That had his changes and spotted fastballs going straighter than usual for him.
This time, after a longer break, the livelier arm cost control at first. "And it was all over the place," Pigott said. "But, they didn't know where it was going, so it was effectively wild I guess for me!"
Still, "I knew I had to figure it out or balls would start going out of the park." Which almost happened as noted previously on a fifth-inning drive. "It was a good pitch too, we ‘wrapped' a slider and he put a great swing on it. I'm glad it stayed in the park. That wind was nice, it took away their right-handed power."
So, where does the Regional win rank in Pigott's personal pantheon? "Definitely up there," he says, still thinking back to March and his full-game stint to win at Arkansas. "That was huge for us, it was probably number-one. But, this was for everything."
Or at least a ticket to the Regional championship round where Pigott will have to watch and wonder if he'll be back on a mound next weekend. "Hopefully there's more to come."
GOT YOUR BACK, BUD: Pigott got the win, but couldn't go the distance this time. After 115 pitches and a double in the bottom of the eighth it was time to sit down and hand the ball off to Aaron Weatherford, who'd been warming since the sixth. The soph righthander had not thrown a live pitch since May 13 at Georgia, when he aggravated the shoulder nerve that had bothered him last fall.
For a while Weatherford wasn't even sure he'd get in this game. "I've got ultimate confidence in Pigott, he usually doesn't give me the opportunity to throw very much! But I told him before the game I've got your back." He also had the stuff to strand that runner in the eighth and, after a leadoff walk in the ninth, mow down three-straight on strikeouts.
"He did his part and I was fortunate enough to do mine," said Weatherford, who got his first save since April 29 and fourth of the year. The soph had taken care of the eighth with a mix of pitches, twice getting ground-outs off his improved split-finger. The ninth? That was just about all straight-heat. "I just had my stuff working tonight."
Earlier in the week Weatherford admitted that while he missed the action over the past three weeks, every bit of extra down-time is now coming in handy. Certainly his heater is back up to early-season standards. "I was ready to go for the SEC Tournament but when you're not winning there's not much need for a closer. So it ended up being a little bit longer break than I hoped. But rest is always a good thing, so I'm not complaining. It's coming out for the best."
MSU-ELLANEOUS NOTES: Sneed's shot Saturday was the 45th homer of this season for State. The Bulldogs hit 55 longballs last season, only the second time this decade a MSU team has topped 50 home runs… Easley is still the lone Dog with double-digit homers, at 12… For the two Regional games Sneed and OF Jeff Flagg are the team batting leaders at .500, though only Sneed has played both contests. He is 3-of-6 in Tallahassee… Rea (.375) and OF Joseph McCaskill (.333) are the other Dogs topping .300 for the weekend so far… A .271 team average is sufficient when the opposition has hit just .167 in two games… Easley and 1B/OF Mitch Moreland have now started all 55 games this season.