May 30, 2013 12:06:40 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Unlike a lot of the members in the Mississippi State University locker room, Myles Gentry has great memories from playing the University of Central Arkansas this season.
The freshman right handed reliever was key in the only victory MSU (43-17) had in a three-game series from March 8-10 when Gentry was called on in emergency duty in the first inning of the Friday night game.
Gentry, who had eight previous appearances before that 4-2 victory over UCA, went from charting pitches to on the mound in a matter of minutes.
In his longest outing of the season, Gentry (1-0) saved MSU from disaster by managing to keep the Bears, 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.
"That was unexpected," Gentry said after the victory. "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."
In the first inning and just nine pitches into his start, MSU left handed pitcher Jacob Lindgren saw a line drive ricochet off his left knee leaving him needing to be helped off the field. Gentry's biggest moment of his college career was given to him and the only thought he had amidst the craziness was three: take your time.
"I certainly wasn't going to rush through my warmups and my preparations in a situation like this because it's the first inning so I kind of figured they needed somebody to go a long way in the game," Gentry said.
After a disappointing weekend for most of the MSU pitchers, Gentry was able to showcase his ability from his ¾ arm slot to keep the fastball down in the strike zone against an aggressive UCA lineup and creating several ground ball outs.
"They were taking some good swings but I had to get the ball down on the fastball in order for my defense to make great plays," Gentry said. "I knew I just had to make my defense work to not only to keep them in the game but because I didn't need to try and get strikeouts."
When Gentry arrived on campus, he knew he'd be asked to do anything and everything MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson would ask him in order to get time on the mound in his first college season. Last year Gentry was 8-3 as a starter at Gulfport High School with a 1.50 earned run average in 11 appearances as a senior in 2012. Being a long reliever doesn't faze Gentry as he completed six complete high school games, which go seven innings and registered 79 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings.
Gentry's emergence last week during the Southeastern Conference tournament in Hoover, Ala., was an injection of life into a MSU bullpen that had been used heavily throughout the season. Gentry 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. The victory all but guaranteed MSU would received a host site in the NCAA tournament and more importantly served as a spotlighted stage for the freshman to get used to the pressure of pitching in the postseason. After the 3-1 performance at the SEC tournament, the MSU coaching staff named Gentry the pitcher of the week allowing him the honor of parking his car right up front next to Dudy Noble Field.
"I wasn't getting frustrated with not pitching for a while because I knew my time would come," Gentry said. "The one things this program, the coaching staff as a whole and Coach Thompson does specifically is make sure to personally work one-on-one with you so you don't feel like you're left out. They had me convinced I would be needed later in the season and they were right."
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, Coach 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."
In SEC play, Gentry (4-0, 3.18) had struggled through quality left handed hitters that were able to lift his fastball into power alleys. Against South Carolina in the SEC tournament, Gentry was able to get into positive counts against the left handed hitters to force defensive swings.
The MSU is hoping that Gentry can provide quality relief this weekend especially when the Bulldogs open the NCAA Starkville Regional Friday at 7 p.m., against a right-handed dominate Central Arkansas (39-20) lineup.
"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."
In his first NCAA experience and in front of an expected 14,000 fans at Dudy Noble Field, Gentry is comforted by seeing a rematch against a UCA lineup that he's already had success against.
"I was comforted by a big field at Hoover to just go out and throw strikes," Gentry said.
"I watched South Carolina three times before I got in last week against them. We'll have a good plan for (Central Arkansas) too."