May 23, 2013 1:21:47 AM
HOOVER, Ala. - Every May at Southeastern Conference baseball tournament Mississippi State University turns the event into a showcase for its freshman class of pitchers. Tonight's main attraction was Myles Gentry.
The freshman walk-on from Gulfport guided the No. 16 Bulldogs through the final 5 2/3 innings of the 5-3 victory over the No. 17 University of South Carolina in only his sixth appearance over the last two months.
After MSU (42-16) used six pitchers in a 17-inning marathon victory over the University of Missouri that stretched into early Wednesday morning, Gentry's long relief was just what the Bulldogs needed to replenish a bullpen that has been the club's most consistent weapon this season.
"Not in so many words, (MSU pitching coach Butch) Thompson told me that I needed to be ready to go out there today and go as long as I can," Gentry said. "They talked to me all day about changing speeds and keep the ball down."
Gentry's side-arm motion from the right side was a valuable weapon in the first two months of the season but had struggled to get quality Southeastern Conference batters out lately. The 5-foot-11 right hander matched his career high for strikeouts with eight in his longest ever outing.
"The whole issue with Myles this season has been the left handed hitter," MSU coach John Cohen said. "When I saw him struck the four-hole hitter (LB) Dantzler out tonight with a swing and miss, that immediately changes things as quickly as you can snap your fingers."
Last season MSU got quality starts from freshman starters Brandon Woodruff and Jacob Lindgren during their run to the 2012 SEC tournament championship. In the stretch where the Bulldogs won five of six games in Hoover, Ala., Jonathan Holder recorded a victory and a save in his first SEC tournament experience as well.
"This can be a coming out party for a freshman and this tournament is a perfect opportunity for arms because of the short week," Cohen said. "We told guys like Trevor Fitts, Will Cox and Myles Gentry to be ready because in order to keep playing, they'll have to be at a high level."
After seeing South Carolina senior pitcher Nolan Belcher six days ago in Starkville, MSU's offense used a more aggressive approach early in counts on the crafty left hander. Wes Rea and Demarcus Henderson were able to attack fastballs in hitter friendly counts for run-scoring hits to give MSU an 2-0 lead before starting pitcher Luis Pollorena ever reached the mound.
Four members of the MSU lineup contributed a multi-hit night including Rea, Henderson, junior shortstop Adam Frazier and junior second baseman Brett Pirtle. Pirtle's streak of reaching base was extended to 31 straight games with a double down the left field line in the third inning. The Panola (Texas) College transfer would eventually score in the frame to give MSU a 3-0 lead.
South Carolina (39-17) would tag Pollorena for three runs in the fourth inning as the Bulldogs senior southpaw failed to get out of the fifth inning for the fifth time in seven outings. Wednesday marked only the third time since 2004 the Gamecocks have lost their first game in the tournament.
"Our offense isn't doing enough for our pitching staff (and) quite honestly it's disappointing," South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said. "We've got to play better or it's going to be a short postseason."
Rea's second three-hit game of the season included a pair of RBI singles where the 272-pound first baseman went to the opposite field and muscled outside pitches to open territory. The third-year sophomore's willingness to abandon his pull hitting tendencies have allowed Rea to see his batting average jump 44 points from last year's .249 to his current mark of .293.
"We had a really good idea as to what he was going to do and fortunately he just fell into that same pattern of his," Rea said. "When you see a pitcher twice in a week and you know what is coming, it's advantage hitter."
South Carolina will face No. 1 Vanderbilt University in the losers bracket today as the top seeded Commodores will throw projected first round draft pick Kevin Ziomek in a elimination game.
MSU has now won six of seven games and will start senior right hander Kendall Graveman (5-5, 2.99) against Texas A&M University after the Aggies knocked off Vanderbilt 5-0 earlier Wednesday. On April 13 against A&M, Graveman pitched a complete game in a 9-3 victory in a weekend where the Bulldogs earned a road sweep.
"We know Kendall will throw for us (Thursday) but the main question right now is who will throw for us out of the bullpen," Cohen said. "We have to know as soon as possible if guys like Holder and Girodo and others can give us an inning or more."
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.
2. Local vampire film to debut in Columbus ENTERTAINMENT
4. Art Walk Downtown returns to Columbus Thursday ENTERTAINMENT
5. Final prep underway for free open-air play at MSU ENTERTAINMENT