Bullpen Protects 2-0 Margin And Series Sweep

Nick Ammirati

Going into the season everyone knew the bullpen depth Mississippi State had. But nobody would have predicted which reliever would have the most appearance three weekends into the season. Well, nobody except perhaps Myles Gentry himself. "You know, I had a feeling I could get in there if I kept it down and kept getting ground balls."

There's a Saint Joseph's team that left Dudy Noble Field with a different sort of feeling. Twice on Sunday, Gentry put in a short but decisive stint to maintain Mississippi State leads on the visiting Hawks. While he did not get any sort of decision or save, timely tosses from the rookie righthander were key to the Bulldogs taking both contests by 3-2 and 2-0 scores and completing a four-game sweep.

"He came in and threw I think 13 pitches in the first game, and four or five this game and really pitched well," Coach John Cohen said after Sunday's second success. The shutout made Mississippi State 15-0 after three weekends of work, while Saint Josephs left 2-8 and heading to a midweek set at UAB.

Gentry's turn in game-two was certainly short, but effective. He entered in the top of the eighth, replacing lefthander Chad Girodo, with the Bulldogs leading by a pair, but also with a Hawk on base and the meat of their order up. And, three hours after he'd worked 1.2 turns in game-one. The interruption didn't show in his team-leading eighth outing.

Gentry got Brian O'Keefe to smack right into a 5-4-3 double-play on the first pitch. Three more offerings sufficed to get Mike Muha looking. "I was just keeping the fastball down and hitting spots, just getting ground balls." Gentry was also again setting the stage for somebody else to earn the same. It was Ben Bracewell in the early game; the second was presented gift-wrapped to Johnathan Holder to pick up a fifth save already. Holder used a dozen pitches for three strikeouts.

State starter Will Cox (2-0) picked up a second win in as many Sundays. He didn't work as long this time around at 5.0 innings, but Cox certainly had the Hawks' number. They managed four hits and a walk against six strikeouts. If not for a couple of consecutive hit batsmen in the third Cox could have kept cruising. A 66-pitch stint sufficed, Cohen said, to keep sophomore righty Cox in contention for one of the SEC rotation roles still to be picked.

Saint Joseph's Daniel Thorpe was something different to Dog batters though. After facing plenty of fastball/slider righthanders, Thorpe could barely touch 80mph with his sweeping motion. But the slow stuff was well-spotted and State did not hit him the first two turns. Or technically in the third either. Yet this was where the two runs came from.

3B Sam Frost got nailed on the second Thorpe pitch, and was running as an inning before O'Keefe had hurt his throwing hand on a foul-tip. Frost made it safely. A slow roller by C Nick Ammirati to first base was butchered into Dogs on corners with no outs. So SS Adam Frazier put State on the board with a grounder up the middle, Frost scoring as Ammirati was forced at second base.

No contact at all was needed to score Frazier. Both the pitcher and catcher tried picking him off in turn, and each threw errantly. Thorpe let Frazier come across on a truly wild pitch, too, for the 2-0 lead after three innings. It would hold up fortunately as Thorpe slogged on through six complete with nothing happening on three scattered State safeties.

Cox was able to survive that third unscathed, stranding Hawks on third and second bases by outing the top three of the SJ order. Consecutive strikeouts left another runner on second base in the fifth. A couple of opening hits in the sixth and a well-stocked bullpen let Cox take his bow and hand the tying runners over to RHP Preston Brown with no outs. He got a pair of strikeouts. One was a gift as Muha kept trying to bunt on 1-2 and missed. Chris Hueth went down swinging. With a lefthander up next lefty Girodo got the call, and after working a full count got the swinging strikeout.

Kevin Burum and Steven Schuler took care of the eighth and ninth innings respectively for Saint Joseph's. The Hawks did have one more hit than State, six to five, with a pair from Greg Kumpel. 1B Alex Detz led the Dog order with two singles.

One pride-point for Hawks pitching was ending a pair of hitting streaks. Frazier (nine) and CF C.T. Bradford (ten) had their strings snapped as each was 0-of-4.

"We didn't put up the type of offense we would have liked to," Cohen said. "But I think the story of the weekend is our bullpen and what those guys did for us."

The pace slows just a little for the Bulldogs. After consecutive four-game weekends, they have just three the next time when hosting Central Arkansas. There also is just one midweek date, Tuesday evening against Mississippi Valley State. RHP Brandon Woodruff will get the start.

The 15-0 start is State's best since the 2006 team began with 18-straight victories.

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