Last night, I watched one of the oddest baseball games I’ve ever seen, here are anywhere else. MSU beat Central Arkansas, 5-3, in the first round of this NCAA regional, and it was never boring.
Here’s a weird stat for you: MSU made four errors for the third time this year. It’s 3-0 in those games. There were several weird or unusual moments last night that had a big impact on the game, four in particular that stand out to me. So I’m going to revisit each one of them here, in the order they happened.
• Kendall Graveman’s two errors on one play: In the fourth inning, with UCA’s Garrett Brown on first base and no outs, Justin Treece dropped down an excellent bunt to the first base side. First baseman Wes Rea fielded it and tossed it to Graveman, who was racing over to cover first. Graveman dropped the ball, and so Brown broke for third. Graveman picked up the ball and threw it way over third base, allowing Brown to score for a 2-1 Bears lead.
“I’m a competitor, and I want to try to make stuff happen. I might should’ve held onto the ball, I don’t know,” Graveman said with a chuckle. Then coach John Cohen, sitting next to the pitcher in the postgame press conference, cracked, “There’s no might to it.”
What was ironic about that play is that earlier in the week, when giving his reasoning for starting Graveman, Cohen mentioned his defensive abilities. And Graveman is normally very good at fielding his position – he had just one error before last night’s miscues.
• The 1-5 double play: Later that inning, Treece was on third with one out with Forrestt Allday at bat. Allday is UCA’s leadoff man and a .378 hitter. He smoked the first pitch he saw right back at Graveman, who reflexively reached out and snagged it for the out. He then fired to third to double off Treece, and that play made Sports Center’s Top 10 Plays.
“I think we were supposed to be pitching around him there,” Graveman said, “and I gave up some hard contact.”
He also said, “To overcome that inning was big for us. I think it really gave everybody a sense of relaxation.”
• Brett Pirtle’s flyout-turned-triple: In the fifth inning, with two outs and UCA up 2-1, MSU had nobody on base after a failed hit-and-run. Pirtle lifted a routine fly ball to left field, but Ethan Harris lost it in the lights and never touched it, and it turned into a triple. Pirtle then scored on Rea‘s single to tie the game.
“I had a bead on it, it was right there, and the last second it got caught up in those lights,” Harris said.
• The 3-6-4 double play: One of the rarest double plays you’ll ever see occurred in the sixth inning. In a tie game, UCA had men at first and second with no outs after a Pirtle error and a hit-by-pitch. Brown laid down a bunt to the right side, and Rea was already racing in. He scooped it up and fired to third base, where shortstop Adam Frazier was covering. Frazier caught it and fired across to first, where Pirtle was covering.
“That was the play of the game,” MSU coach Cohen said.
MSU had called what Rea said was a “crash play,” where he and third baseman Sam Frost charge hard as the batter squares to bunt.
“Thankfully he bunted it right to me,” Rea said. “I’ve got Frazier covering third right there. That’s a play we work on, one of our bunt plays we work on every day in practice.”
Cohen said they didn’t call the crash play on the first pitch because “we really wanted to read what the hitter was doing. … You’re really vulnerable when you run that play, so as a coach you’re kind of just hoping that the guy actually bunts, and he did.”
The oddness of last night’s game was not lost on anyone. In fact, Rea said, “I was coming to dugout after certain innings saying, wow man, this is a crazy game.”