By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
HOOVER, Ala. – As Trey Porter exchanged postgame high fives with his teammates, the senior said to no one in particular, “Might as well win the whole thing.”
No. 16 Mississippi State moved one step closer to winning the whole thing, beating No. 17 South Carolina 5-3 on Wednesday night in the second round of the SEC Tournament at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
The Bulldogs (42-16), seeded fifth in this tourney, will play No. 9 seed Texas A&M (32-25) in Thursday’s late game. The winner gets Friday off and advances to Saturday’s semifinals.
So MSU is in good position to repeat as SEC Tournament champion, and the phrase Porter uttered alludes to that run.
“He’s repeating that from last year,” outfielder Demarcus Henderson said. “Last year we started out 2-0, and then everybody said, ‘We might as well win the whole thing.’ So I guess that’s our phrase again this year: ‘Might as well win it again.’”
Playing in their 100th SEC Tournament game, the Bulldogs scored twice in the ninth inning to beat South Carolina (39-17) for the third time in four tries this year. They won two of three in Starkville last weekend.
Wes Rea’s RBI single to right field in the ninth gave State a 4-3 lead in a game that had been tied since the fourth. Then, after a failed squeeze bunt play, Henderson singled home a run.
Henderson was two hits and three RBIs.
Freshman reliever Myles Gentry (4-0) turned in a stellar effort, matching a career high with eight strikeouts in 5 2/3 scoreless innings of work.
“I was just changing speeds on my fastball, and then the breaking ball came along tonight towards the end,” Gentry said. “Everything was working, really.”
Reliever Adam Westmoreland (7-2) took the loss.
MSU’s win came on the heels of a 17-inning game against Missouri the night before, but there seemed to be no ill effects aside from a slight muscle pull that kept center fielder C.T. Bradford out of the lineup.
Rea said while the Bulldogs didn’t necessarily feel refreshed for the South Carolina game, they were physically prepared due to offseason workouts. Henderson said the same.
“I believe we work harder than anybody in the SEC when it comes to weights, and we get pushed to the limit until there’s no coming back,” Henderson said.
MSU had 12 hits, marking the eighth consecutive game it reached double digits in hits. Rea had three hits and two RBIs, while Adam Frazier and Brett Pirtle had two hits apiece.
South Carolina starter Nolan Belcher, who six days earlier had allowed just one run in 6 1/3 innings against MSU, was touched for two runs on four hits in the first inning Wednesday. Rea and Henderson had RBI singles, although State left the bases loaded.
Pirtle doubled to lead off the third, reaching base safely for the 31st consecutive game. After taking third on Rea’s sac bunt, Pirtle scored on Henderson’s first sac fly of the season for a 3-0 lead.
MSU could have added more in the fourth, but Pirtle’s bases-loaded fly ball to left field was ruled a catch, even though replay showed that Graham Saiko trapped the ball. South Carolina then scored three times in the bottom of that inning, chasing MSU starter Luis Pollorena.
The senior left-hander allowed those three runs on four hits, striking out two and walking three in 3 1/3 innings. Gentry entered and struck out the next two hitters to quell the rally.
Next inning, Gentry again fanned two straight to strand two runners.
With State having used five relievers against Missouri – all of them throwing at least 2 1/3 innings – Gentry’s long outing was important. He hadn’t pitched much of late – this was his first appearance in 11 days, and just his fourth since early April.
“I wasn’t getting frustrated,” he said. “I knew my time would come. Just had to take advantage of the opportunities.”
Senior right-hander Kendall Graveman (5-5, 2.99 ERA) will start on the mound for MSU today versus Texas A&M. The Bulldogs swept the Aggies in College Station earlier this season, but this is a team that just beat No. 1-ranked Vanderbilt, 5-0, on Wednesday.
A&M homered three times and owns all four home runs hit in Hoover so far this week.