June 3, 2013 10:45:24 AM
STARKVILLE - In big situations the University of Central Arkansas continues to hand the baseball to a little-known freshman right handed pitcher named Connor Gilmore.
In the two biggest games of the 2013 season, Gilmore, a 6-foot-5 righty from Little Rock, Ark., has responded with the maturity and savvy of a veteran.
"There's no words to describe the feeling right now," Gilmore said. "It's unbelievable and there's no magic to it. All I'm doing is making plays behind me. A deep fly ball here will be caught."
Gilmore threw a two-hit, complete-game 4-0 shutout against Southeastern Louisiana University in the Southland Conference tournament championship game to claim the school's league title. The win also locked up the league's automatic bid into the NCAA Division I Championship, which was the Bears' first national postseason appearance since playing in the 1959 NAIA playoffs. Central Arkansas moved to NCAA Division II in 1993 and to Division I in 2007, only becoming eligible for postseason in 2010 after its transition period.
Gilmore (5-0) threw a complete-game, four-hit shutout Sunday against a impressive University of South Alabama lineup and lead UCA (41-21) to to the NCAA Starkville Regional championship game with a 3-0 win Sunday afternoon.
"All I wanted to do was come in there and pitch to my defense like Coach Gunn teaches me to do," Gilmore said. "All I was doing is throwing a fastball as hard as I could and let them hit somewhere."
Less than 24 hours after leading Mississippi State in the winners bracket game, South Alabama (43-20) was eliminated from the 2013 NCAA Starkville Regional and saw its emotional campaign end without putting a single run on the board.
Gilmore surrendered four hits and a walk while striking out two in a 101-pitch effort. After the game every infielder gave the freshman pitcher a giant hug on the mound knowing they'd get another opportunity at MSU in less than a hour at Dudy Noble Field.
"It's been a long, long journey for me and the coaches had a lot of confidence for me to know I would put the work in," Gilmore said. "They wanted me to come in as a freshman and make a impact. My feet are lightly touching the ground right now."
Gilmore received all the offensive support he would need with a run in the bottom of the fourth. Ethan Harris doubled to leadoff the frame and took third on a Blake Marchal sacrifice bunt. Harris would finish the afternoon 3 for 3 with two runs scored and a walk.
USA starter Jaime Dennis fell to 2-1 after being touched for a run and six hits in 4.2 innings. The Jaguars, who on Friday won its first NCAA tournament game since 2006, left Starkville with only three extra-base hits in its three total games of the regional. South Alabama coach Mark Calvi was ejected in the eighth inning for arguing a close play at first base. Under NCAA rules, an ejected coach can not come to the post-game media conference.
"(Connor) Gilmore was really good," Calvi said. "We hit some balls hard. He doesn't have a lot of strikeouts, but he has such a good downhill angle that he gives up a lot of ground balls. He left some balls up and we hit them hard, but they played good defense behind him. He did what they needed him to do. For a freshman to go out there and do that on elimination day was good for them. They have a good guy for the next couple of years."
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