March 8, 2013 10:59:13 PM
STARKVILLE - The Mississippi State University baseball coaching staff keeps waiting for freshman right-handed pitcher Myles Gentry to have a meltdown.
It simply hasn't happened yet and the Gulfport native may not be put in a more difficult situation this season. The 5-foot-11 pitcher, who had 8 previous appearances before Friday night, went from charting pitches to the MSU emergency arm in the first inning in a matter of minutes.
In his longest outing of the season, Gentry (1-0) led MSU to a 4-2 victory Friday night over the University of Central Arkansas in the 17th straight victory for the No. 3 Bulldogs.
"He hasn't flinched once (this season) and tonight planted the seed in his mind that he can do this," MSU coach John Cohen said. "With this kid, you keep waiting on him to become a freshman and he just doesn't. This is a guy that is going to have a lot of appearances at Mississippi State if he stays healthy."
After a line drive ricocheted off the left knee of MSU sophomore left-handed pitcher Jacob Lindgren just nine pitches into his outing, the Bulldogs ace needed help to even be carried off the field. Cohen and pitching coach Butch Thompson turned to Gentry and gave him two words "you're in".
"That was unexpected," Gentry said. "I heard them say my name and I was in there. I really didn't have much time to think about it with the time to get my arm warm. I wasn't going to rush myself."
Gentry managed to keep UCA (12-2), who came to Starkville leading the country in offense with 9.9 runs per game, to no hits in 4 1/3 innings. Of the 13 batters Gentry faced Friday evening, only a hit batter to the lead off the fifth inning would reach base in his 63-pitch effort.
"They were taking some good swings but I had to get the ball down on the fastball in order for my defense to make greats," Gentry said.
Cohen and UCA coach Allen Gum went through a 2 hours, 43-minute chess match that included 12 pitching changes, which included MSU junior C.T. Bradford coming in from centerfield to pitch on two different occasions.
MSU (17-0) extended the nation's longest winning streak by having six players record a hit and junior outfielder Hunter Renfroe recorded his sixth multi-hit game.
The Bulldogs attacked UCA starting pitcher Caleb McClanahan in the second time through the batter order by building a 4-0 lead in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. McClanahan's pitch-to-contact style allowed him to record nine straight outs to open the game but MSU did have a warning track shot by Alex Detz and a couple hard hit line drives beautifully handled by shortstop Justin Treece.
"Everybody just got in a rhythm on him and when that happens, you're going to hit somebody pretty hard," Renfroe said. "
Central Arkansas, who defeated MSU 2-0 last season on May 15, now has its only two losses in the 2013 campaign to Southeastern Conference opponents (the Bears lost to Vanderbilt University 10-2 on Feb. 20).
MSU ended the debate quickly on what role sophomore right-hander Will Cox will have this weekend as the Amory native pitched two innings in relief. Cox, who had only allowed one earned run in three starts but was bumped from the rotation this weekend, allowed the first UCA run of the night while striking out three batters.
"When you're playing three games this weekend instead of four that brings Will Cox into focus in a game like this," Cohen said. "I thought he came in and threw the ball very, very well."
Sophomore closer Jonathan Holder picked up his sixth save of the season even after allowing only the second earned run of his college career. Holder, whose ERA currently sits at just 1.08, surrendered a solo home run to left field in the ninth inning off Michael Marietta for the final result. Holder is now tied for sixth all-time in school history saves with 15.
After the game all eyes were on Lindgren as the former 12th round pick by the Chicago Cubs out of high school, was using crutches to get around from a precautionary standpoint. Cohen said the encouragement with the injury is the line drive went off the side of the knee instead of directly off the patella. The sophomore left-hander is scheduled for an MRI tomorrow with no official word on his status for next weekend vs. Louisiana State University until the medical scans come back.
"That was a frightening moment for us," Cohen said. "I'm not a doctor and so we'll know more tomorrow after an MRI but those things are really scary."
After using seven pitchers Friday, MSU must get a long outing from the combination of junior Evan Mitchell and sophomore left-hander Ross Mitchell Saturday when the two teams meet again at 2 p.m. Central Arkansas will be going with senior left-hander Jeffery Enloe (3-0, 2.38) to even the weekend series.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.