STARKVILLE – Mississippi State and Central Arkansas have another rubber match, but the stakes are significantly higher this time.
The No. 14-ranked Bulldogs couldn’t finish the job Sunday night in the NCAA regional at Dudy Noble Field, falling 5-2 to UCA in front of 10,226 fans.
The teams will meet again today at 7:05 p.m., with the winner advancing to the super regional round.
MSU (45-18) was again sloppy in the field, committing four errors. Two days earlier, State beat UCA 5-3 despite four errors.
The miscues led to two unearned runs for Central Arkansas (42-21). The Bears, who won two of three here in March, have all the confidence in the world and all the momentum going into tonight.
“We lost our identity, and that’s disappointing, but we have another day,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “If we don’t learn from it, we can see an instant replay.”
UCA got two unearned runs in the third due to two errors by MSU’s shortstop, the normally sure-handed Adam Frazier. His throwing error to second base gave the Bears runners at the corners, and with the bags full, a sure double play turned into a two-run error when Frazier’s throw to first base skipped wide.
“We weren’t focused coming into today,” said third baseman Sam Frost, who made one of the errors. “We were looking ahead and maybe didn’t quite take them seriously.”
Senior right-hander Ethan McKinzie (4-2) hurled a complete-game four-hitter for UCA. Just hours earlier, teammate Connor Gilmore tossed a four-hit shutout in a 3-0 win over South Alabama.
“Defense was working for me is what it was,” McKinzie said. “I gave up five walks, but when I needed to I found the pitch.”
MSU tied it in the sixth when Frost laced a two-out single to center field to score Brett Pirtle.
UCA broke open a tie game with three runs in the sixth inning off reliever Myles Gentry (4-1). Scott Zimmerle singled home a run for the lead, and then Justin Treece smashed a two-run double to left field with two outs to make it 5-2.
Awaiting the winner of tonight’s game is Virginia, which won its regional Sunday by defeating Elon.
As the No. 6 national seed, UVA will host the super regional. The best-of-three series will begin this coming weekend at Davenport Field.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal