UCA Bears Baseball – 9 Innings from Super


The UCA Bears baseball team has beaten the Mississippi State Bulldogs three of five times in Starkville this season


Starkville, Miss. –  For the eighth straight time facing elimination, the UCA Bears baseball team was once again able to continue the most successful season in the program’s history as the team defeated Mississippi State 5-2 at Dudy Noble Field on Sunday to force a winner-take-all game at the Starkville Regional on Monday night.

In beating the Bulldogs for the third time in five games this season, the UCA Bears baseball team (42-20) was able to silence the raucous crowd of 10,000+  MSU fans, many of whom headed for the exits in the middle of the 8th inning, and celebrated with a hearty and vocal contingency of Bear fans who made the trip to Starkville.

“Our fans are great,” said Bears junior shortstop Justin Treece, whose two-run double in the bottom of the sixth broke the game open for the Bears. “There at the end it seemed like we were the home team. It got loud for us, I think the loudest we’ve heard it all year for us. It’s good when they get behind you – it gives you a little extra motivation.”

The UCA Bears baseball faithful had much to cheer about thanks in part to the pitching of senior Ethan McKinzie, who tossed his first career complete game and allowed just four hits, though he did issue five walks.

“I thought after the fourth walk I better step it up or I’d see No. 7 (head coach Allen Gum) come and get me,” he said. “When you do walk people you can’t think about it, just flush it and move on to the next one. I’m glad I went nine (innings) – I wanted the ball, and got the adrenaline going again in the ninth inning and got the win.

“Basically my defense was working for me,” McKinzie said. “You look at it, and I gave up five walks, but whenever I need to I found a pitch, and the guys played great behind me.”

McKinzie went the distance, making it a pair of complete games for the Bears on Saturday, coming on the heels of a nine-inning outing from freshman Connor Gilmore in the day’s earlier win over South Alabama. In 18 innings facing elimination, the Bears were able to save their bullpen for Monday’s decisive game with the Bulldogs.

“We didn’t have that in the plan,” said Gum. “We had hoped for it, no question about that, but the way they came out is great. We saved our bullpen, didn’t have to go to it, and once again got guys rested and be able to go tomorrow. We’d hoped for 7, maybe 6 innings (from McKinzie) and go from there and start thinking about how to piece it together. But he kept going strong. There was a moment where we were getting close to having to pull him, but he made a couple big pitches. Then in the last inning he picked his velocity back up to where it was early.”

With the game tied at 2, the Bears pulled ahead with a three-run sixth inning and shut the Bulldogs down the rest of the way, holding them to one hit over the final three innings to secure the Bears’ eighth consecutive win with their season on the line.

“It’s exactly like we did last week,” said Treece, referencing the Bears’ five straight wins in the Southland Conference tournament after dropping the opener. “When our backs are against the wall we seem to play better and play looser instead of getting tight.”

Mississippi State took an early lead in the top half of the second when Demarcus Henderson laced a single to right field, scoring Sam Frost and giving the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead.

The Bears struck back in the bottom half of the third, taking advantage of a pair of throwing errors by Bulldog shortstop Adam Frazier to take a 2-1 lead. Third baseman Garrett Brown led off the inning with a single to short, bringing Treece to the plate. Treece hit a grounder just past the outstretched glove of Frost but Frazier fielded the ball deep in the hole. He attempted to force Brown out at second but overthrew the second base bag, giving the Bears runners on first and third with no outs. Following a pop up on the infield, right fielder Forrestt Allday drew a walk to load the bases for center fielder Jonathan Davis. Davis hit a grounder to Frazier, who stepped on second and fired low and wide to first base. Brown scored from third and Treece ran home from second, giving the Bears the lead.

Both teams were scoreless through the fourth and fifth, but Mississippi State got an equalizer in the top of the sixth. Second baseman Brett Pirtle led off the inning by drawing a walk and advanced to second on a swinging bunt by first baseman Wes Rea. Following a lineout to second base, Frost ripped a single up the middle, scoring Pirtle from second to even the score at 2-2.

Central Arkansas wasted no time in responding, plating three runs in the bottom of the sixth to retake the lead. Left fielder Ethan Harris got the inning started with a single through the right side and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt before catcher Michael Marietta moved him to third with a single to center field. First baseman Scott Zimmerle drove in Harris with another single to center to give the Bears a 3-2 lead. Treece then hit a one-hopper to the wall in left field for a two-run double. Marietta scored from second and Zimmerle scored all the way from first, pushing the Central Arkansas lead to 5-2.

Those three insurance runs would prove to be all that Central Arkansas would need, as McKinzie (4-2) would allow just one hit over the game’s final three innings to give the Bears their second complete game of the day. The senior from Gravette, Arkansas picked up the first complete game of his career, scattering a pair of runs on four hits. He walked five and struck out one.

Trevor Fitts got the start for the Bulldogs, throwing 2.2 innings and allowing two runs on just one hit. He issued two walks and got one strikeout. Myles Gentry (4-1) took the loss, giving up three runs on five hits and a walk in 3.1 innings of work. Will Cox was the most effective Mississippi State pitcher on the day, allowing just one base runner in two innings while string out two.

“It was an exciting game tonight,” said Gum. “Ethan threw great, we went right at them and got a big play early from Jonathan Davis that gave us the momentum and we kept it. It was a great atmosphere tonight and it was great to be a part of it.”

Courtesy UCA Department of Athletics

Even the athletic director of the University of Arkansas sent along his words of encouragement to the UCA Bears baseball team after the victory.
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