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Bears Fall to Bulldogs in Starkville

The Bears and Bulldogs played a back-and-forth game, with Mississippi State eventually emerging as the 5-3 victors.
Starkville, MS –The Central Arkansas Bears made their first NCAA Tournament appearance on Friday night, facing off with the ninth-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs in the first round of the Starkville Regional. The Bears and Bulldogs played a back-and-forth game, with Mississippi State eventually emerging as the 5-3 victors.

Central Arkansas (39-22) threatened in the top of the first inning, loading the bases with a walk, fielder’s choice, single, and another walk, but a strikeout and a groundout to the shortstop ended the Bears’ threat. Mississippi State (45-17) immediately took advantage of the missed opportunity, plating a run in their half of the frame. A ground out started the inning, before the Bulldogs were able to load the bases courtesy of a single, a fielding error, and a bunt single. First baseman Wes Rea came through for Mississippi State, poking a single through the right side to plate the game’s first run and give the Bulldogs the 1-0 lead. Bears starter Caleb McClanahan managed to limit the damage though, inducing a fielder’s choice and a fly out to end the inning with the bases loaded.

After both teams were unable to find a run in the second inning, the Bears were able to get on the board in the top of the third. A ground out started the inning before center fielder Jonathan Davis reached base with an infield single. Davis advanced to second on a soft ground out to first base and came in to score when second baseman Blake Marchal singled to right-center field to tie the game at 1-1. Catcher Michael Marietta followed with a single of his own but a ground out ended the inning.

Central Arkansas added a run in the top of the fourth thanks to a trio of Mississippi State errors. After third baseman Garrett Brown reached on a fielding error, shortstop Justin Treece laid down a sacrifice bunt. Mississippi State starter Kendall Graveman was unable to field the throw cleanly at first and overthrew third base while trying to gun down Brown, allowing the Central Arkansas third baseman to scamper home to give the Bears a 2-1 lead. Designated hitter Chris Townsend moved Treece to third with a sac bunt of his own before Graveman flashed the leather on a blistering line drive off the bat of right fielder Forrestt Allday. Graveman fired to third, doubling off Treece and ending the inning.

The Bulldogs evened the score at 2-2 in the bottom of the fifth inning, collecting a pair of 2-out hits to plate a run. Designated hitter Alex Detz started the inning off with a single to up the middle but was caught attempting to steal second base following a foul pop. Second baseman Brett Pirtle lofted a fly ball to left field, and the Bears appeared ready to head to the dugout as left fielder Ethan Harris settled under the ball. Harris lost the ball in the lights at the last second though, and the ball rolled all the way to the wall, allowing Pirtle to reach third with a triple. Rea got the job done again, singling to left field to plate Pirtle and tie the game at 2-2.

Mississippi State added three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to break the tie and take a 5-2 lead. Third baseman Sam Frost got the inning started with a walk and advanced to second on a sac bunt. Left fielder Demarcus Henderson advanced Frost to third with a single to center field and moved to second on the throw. Shortstop Adam Frazier gave the Bulldogs a 3-2 lead with an RBI groundout to second base, scoring Frost and moving Henderson to third. Detz plated Henderson with an infield single, and right fielder Hunter Renfroe followed by lacing a double just inches inside the third base bag to plate Detz from first. Following a pitching change, the Bears finally caught a break in the inning. Renfroe was running on the pitch from reliever Blake Clayton and managed to make it all the way home when the ball got away from Marietta. Renfroe was ruled out on the play however, as he failed to touch the third base bag when making the turn for home.

Central Arkansas fought tooth and nail against All-SEC closer Jonathan Holder in the top of the ninth inning, pulling to within 5-3 thanks to three walks and a wild pitch. Brown opened the frame by drawing a four pitch walk and was lifted for pinch runner Doug Votolato. Holder appeared to find some control during the next two at-bats, striking out Treece and Townsend to put the Bears down to their final out. Central Arkansas refused to give in though, as Allday and Davis each worked walks to load the bases for Harris. A wild pitch plated Votolato and placed the tying run at second base, but the Bears were unable to keep the inning going, as Harris flew out to left field to end the game.

McClanahan (10-6) took the loss for Central Arkansas, allowing five runs on 11 hits over 5.2 innings of work. He issued two walks. Blake Clayton worked 2.1 innings of relief for the Bears, holding the Bulldogs hitless while striking out three.

Graveman (6-5) earned the win for Mississippi State, holding the Bears to two runs (one earned) on four hits over 6.1 innings. He struck out five Bears while walking two. Chad Giordo worked 1.2 innings of scoreless relief for the Bulldogs, allowing only a single hit and striking out two. Jonathan Holder earned his school-record 17th save of the season, allowing a run on three walks in an inning of work. He struck out two Bears.

Central Arkansas finds itself in its sixth elimination game in the last week and a half, facing off with Mercer tomorrow afternoon at 2:00. The winner will face the loser of tomorrow night’s Mississippi State-South Alabama match-up at 2:00 on Sunday afternoon.
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