The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Diamond Dogs rally past UCA to advance in regional

Timely two-out hitting propelled the Mississippi State Bulldogs past Central Arkansas Friday night to a final of 5-3 in the Starkville regional in front of the fifth-largest postseason crowd at Dudy Noble Stadium.

MSU will advance to the winner’s bracket and will face South Alabama Saturday night.

Alex Detz led the Dogs offensively, going 3-for-3 at the plate with an RBI and scoring two runs. Wes Rea was also influential at the plate as he collected a pair of hits and drove in two MSU runs.

MSU head coach John Cohen noted the performance of Detz, and said his plate appearances were a big impact on the outcome of the game.

“(Detz) is just an on-base machine. He knows how to get to first base. If he’s not swinging it, great, but he still gets walks and hit by pitches. He had a little finger issue so it was hard for us in preparation for him to do whole lot in the course of the week,” Cohen said. “I think he’s starting to just scratch the surface of what he can do in the future here.”

Despite four early Bulldog errors, the defense turned two key double plays and held off the Bears’ offense late in the game to clinch the opening round win.

“I felt like we played a very good baseball team tonight. We didn’t handle the baseball very well. I thought we were pretty sloppy defensively,” Cohen said. “The four errors were very uncharacteristic of our club, but we kept battling to find a way to win.”

The Bulldogs started the scoring in the first inning when Rea drove in Detz on a bases-loaded single. UCA responded with a run in the third inning and plated a run in the fourth on back-to-back errors by MSU pitcher Kendall Graveman. UCA clinched to the 2-1 advantage until the fifth inning when Brett Pirtle muscled a 2-out triple that was lost in the lights by the leftfielder to spark the Bulldog offense. Rea followed by driving in his second run of the game with a single to left field to tie the score at two.

Outside of the close offense, UCA head coach Allen Gum said double plays were the factor in the game.

“It was a good ball game. It wasn’t played exceptionally well, but it was intense and close,” he said. “It came down to double plays. They got a couple of them, and we missed a couple opportunities for double plays. That may have been the difference right there.”

In the top of the sixth inning with the score knotted at two, UCA was in position for a rally with runners on first and second with no outs. Garrett Brown laid a bunt down the first base line with Rea crashing in on the play. Rea gunned out the runner advancing to third, and the covering Adam Frazier fired across the diamond to turn the double play and end the threat. Rea said even though it was a perfectly executed play, he knew his team was capable of a key defensive stand.

“I take pride in my defense just as much as every other part of my game,” Rea said. “You have to come right back. The double play on the bunt … for Frazier to look at that as a double play situation is even more unbelievable. We never stop. We always look for the next play and don’t let anything interfere with what’s going to happen next.”

The Maroon and White broke the tie in the bottom of the sixth inning when Frazier, Detz and Hunter Renfroe each drove in runs, giving MSU a 5-2 lead.

Graveman earned the win on the mound Friday night to improve his season record to 6-5. Graveman threw 6.1 innings giving up two runs. He also struck out five UCA batters and surrendered only four hits.

“They’re a disciplined ball club. We knew that the first time we played them,” Graveman said. “The first inning, they did a good job at taking marginal pitches, and after that I decided to try to shove it in for strike one and to see where it goes after that. For me to get ahead in the fixth and sixth inning and to pump strike one, I started to get on a roll and it got me through those innings.”

Jonathan Holder picked up save number 17 on the year, but he had to work a little harder than usual. With two outs and a runner on base, Holder gave up a pair of walks in the ninth to load the bases. A wild pitch advanced the UCA runners and put the game-tying run on second. Down to the final strike, Holder got UCA’s Ethan Harris to fly out to left field to end the game and set the 5-3 final.

Cohen said he was proud of the fight of his team, even with the large home-crowd atmosphere.

“As a player you can get amped up. I remember being part of 3 regionals here where we got really amped up. We had three regionals in a row here in ’87, ’88 and ’89, and we did not win a regional. We felt like we had good clubs all three of those years,” he said.” I think you can feel like the world is on your shoulders. You want to do it so badly for all of these people, but you have to block all that out and have the mindset that nobody is there.”

In game one of the Starkville regional, the two-seed South Alabama Jaguars knocked off three-seed Mercer 9-4. USA’s Jeff DeBlieux collected three hits and scored a pair of runs in the win while four other Jaguars also posted a multi-hit game. MSU will now face USA Saturday night at 7 p.m. following the Mercer vs. Central Arkansas matchup at 2 p.m. Matt Bell (6-1, 3.52 ERA) will start on the mound for the Jags against MSU’s Luis Pollorena (6-3, 4.30 ERA).

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Diamond Dogs rally past UCA to advance in regional