May 23, 2013 10:47:47 AM
HOOVER, Ala. -- The Mississippi State University baseball team is turning the annual Southeastern Conference tournament into a showcase for its freshman pitchers.
The main attraction Wednesday was Myles Gentry.
The freshman walk-on from Gulfport guided No. 16 MSU through the final 5 2/3 innings of a 5-3 victory against the No. 17 University of South Carolina in his sixth appearance in the past two months.
After MSU (42-16) used six pitchers in a 17-inning marathon victory against the University of Missouri that stretched into Wednesday morning, Gentry's outing 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 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 keeping the ball down."
The victory pushed MSU into a matchup against Texas A&M University, which upset top-seeded Vanderbilt 5-0 in the third game of the day. MSU-Texas A&M will start approximately 30 minutes following the LSU-Arkansas game, which is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. today.
Gentry's side-arm motion from the right side was a valuable weapon in the first two months of the season, but he struggled to get Southeastern Conference batters out. The 5-foot-11 right-hander matched his career high with eight strikeouts in the longest outing of his career.
"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 received quality starts from freshman starting pitchers Brandon Woodruff and Jacob Lindgren in its run to the 2012 SEC tournament championship. Jonathan Holder also recorded a victory and a save in his first SEC tournament action in the Bulldogs' 5-1 showing.
"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 to keep playing, they'll have to be at a high level."
Against Missouri, Fitts started and went 3 1/3 innings. He allowed three hits and one run. He struck out two and walked non. Cox earned the victory, pitching the final three innings. He allowed only one hit and struck out two.
After seeing South Carolina senior pitcher Nolan Belcher six days ago in Starkville, MSU used a more aggressive approach early in counts against the crafty left-hander. Wes Rea and Demarcus Henderson attacked fastballs in hitter friendly counts for run-scoring hits to give MSU a 2-0 lead before starting pitcher Luis Pollorena reached the mound.
Rea, Henderson, junior shortstop Adam Frazier, and junior second baseman Brett Pirtle had multiple hits. Pirtle extended his streak of reaching base to 31 games with a double down the left-field line in the third. The Panola (Texas) College transfer scored in the frame to give MSU a 3-0 lead.
South Carolina (39-17) tagged Pollorena for three runs in the fourth. The senior southpaw failed to get out of the fifth 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 the first baseman muscled outside pitches to the opposite field. The third-year sophomore's willingness to abandon his pull-hitting tendencies has allowed him to raise his batting average 44 points from last year's .249 to 293.
"We had a really good idea as to what he was going to do, and fortunately he just fell into that same pattern," 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 in the losers' bracket today.
MSU has won six of seven games and will start senior right-hander Kendall Graveman (5-5, 2.99 ERA) against Texas A&M. On April 13, Graveman pitched a complete game in a 9-3 victory that was part of MSU's sweep of Texas A&M in College Station, Texas.
"We know Kendall will throw for us, 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."
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