Fitts, Gentry Get Job Done In 5-2 Bulldog Win

LAFAYETTE — It might not rank with the classic motivational talks…but Greg Drye certainly got the point across to Myles Gentry. "He told me, don't let anybody else pitch!" And know what? Gentry didn't.

Taking the mound, the ball, and a 5-2 lead, the Diamond Dog reliever followed the bullpen coach's order to a tee. Gentry retired all the dozen San Diego State batters he faced in four innings to finish Mississippi State's first-round victory at the Lafayette Regional.

The Bulldogs (38-22) advance to a Saturday evening meeting with the winner of Friday's late game between host and national seed Louisiana-Lafayette and Jackson State. The Aztecs (42-20) will meet tonight's loser in an afternoon elimination game.

To be sure, Gentry was finishing what RHP Trevor Fitts had started well. And he had the benefit of a good lead to project. Yet even during the week's scouting and planning, Mississippi State was convinced righthander Gentry would be the key to beating San Diego State.

They just didn't tell Gentry himself. "I was not aware of that!" he grinned. What he knew was his job, and the sophomore did it very well. It took Gentry only 34 pitches to roll through the 12 batters faced, and earn his fourth save in the process. Gentry gave up no hits, no walks, didn't come close to nicking any Aztecs, and even struck one of them out.

Just as Coach John Cohen hoped. Expected, even. "We felt Myles was going to be a great matchup for this club before we played. We knew he was going to be our go-to guy. They are so right-hand dominant and the way he's been spinning the baseball, creating movement we felt he was the right guy."

Fitts (5-3) got the winning decision for Mississippi State, having gone 5.0 full frames. The righthander was touched for all three Aztec base hits and walked three, but survived a couple of runs in the second inning and struck out three. Handing over the game with that three-run lead might have bothered some starters.

Not this one. "When I was talking to Myles, coming out of the game, I told him whenever he got down in the zone they were going to hit a lot of ground balls for sure. When I start getting ground balls that's when you know someone like Myles with a lot of sink is going to get a lot of ground balls." Gentry did that, with nine bouncers of his dozen outs including five-straight to finish the stint.

But if Bulldog pitching played-out nearly as well as planned, this Regional's opening game didn't lack for some drama. San Diego State came out swinging and hung a pair of runs on Fitts in the top of the second. And if not for a fielding gaffe in the bottom of the same frame, there was no telling how the contest would have developed.

"A hard-fought victory, they played very well," said Aztec assistant Mark Martinez speaking for his head coach. "And I think we helped them a little and they took advantage."

Fitts saw some big cuts right from his start. The first three all ended up in the glove of CF C.T. Bradford in the opening inning. In the second though Brad Haynal doubled to the left-field corner, and while Fitts got a swinging strikeout of Seby Zavala the dirtball skipped C Gavin Collins' reach for runners on corners with still no outs. Steven Pallares punched a single through the left side for one run, and after the bases were loaded a Evan Potter fly ball sacrificed in another Aztec for the 2-0 lead.

It led to a mound-meeting and a couple of busy Bulldogs in the bullpen. "He was just telling me to get back in the zone," Fitts said. "I was kind of all-around it. The pitch count was getting up and they were seeing a lot of pitches. He's telling me to pound the zone, and you saw obviously after I got out of that inning I started pounding the zone."

Fitts got a nubber back to the mound to strand two Aztecs in scoring spots. "The ability to minimize right there I thought was really the difference in the ball game," Cohen said. Then Fitts got busy pounding. He did give up a leadoff single in the fourth, to Steven Pallares who was 13-of-14 stealing bases in the regular season. It was 13-of-15 as soon as Collins caught him trying to take second. Fitts stranded another walked runner and sat his last three faced.

Meanwhile his offense had taken a lead, and done it immediately after falling behind. Nothing seemed doing when two went down quickly, until DH Alex Detz singled. Even this didn't seem much of a beginning when 1B Wes Rea bounced up the middle. Shortstop Potter fielded behind the bag his flip was too high and allowed Detz to slide in safely and keep the inning alive. 3B Matthew Britton came after the first pitch and hit safely to centerfield, getting State on the scoreboard.

With the top of the order back up, Aztec starter Mark Seyler extended the inning further with a bases-loading walk of CF C.T. Bradford. Given his chance, LF Jake Vickerson also was up and thinking aggressive. "We talk about it all the time, creating the big inning," said Vickerson. "I just wanted the opportunity to get it done there."

Vickerson was ready for a first pitch strike and drove it deep, enough it almost looked headed out before falling fair in the rightfield corner. It was his first triple as a collegian and cleared the bases in front of him for a 4-2 Bulldog lead.

"I was standing next to Coach (Butch) Thompson," Fitts said. "I just started hitting him on the arm when that ball leaves Jake's bat."

Seyler stayed on the mound until the Bulldog fifth, when 2B Brett Pirtle singled to lead off and with two outs RF Cody Brown hit his way on also. San Diego State went to the bullpen for lefthander Marcus Reys. Rather than play the ‘book' State kept left-side swinger Detz at the plate and he delivered with a first-pitch single to right for the 5-2 lead. Which was as good a cue as any for Gentry to take over and literally take charge.

San Diego State changed arms in the bottom of the seventh with two Dogs on and two outs, for righthander TJ Kendzora to strand. He needed a close call in his favor to keep it a three-run deficit s in the eighth with two on and two outs Collins lined a full-count drive that surely seemed to hit the left-field line before caroming over the fence. It was ruled foul immediately and Collins became the last out of State's day.

Seyler (8-6) took the loss with all five runs on five hits, two walks and as many strikeouts. The Bulldogs got nine total hits with two each by Vickerson, Pirtle, and Detz. For San Diego State, two of their three hits were by Pallares.

"Our defense was unreal today," Gentry said. "Early contact, you have to trust them. We kept getting early contact and they made plays."

By getting through the opener on two (right) arms, State's staff is well-stocked for Saturday and the likely showdown with host Lafayette. While LHP Jacob Lindgren and RHP Jonathan Holder did go to the bullpen, neither was needed thanks to Fitts and Gentry eating the nine innings.

"Having those guys available for tomorrow is big," Cohen said. "I think we really want to watch that ball game because we've heard so much about Lafayette's offense. Their numbers are crazy numbers. Not having to use those two bullpen guys is big."

Mississippi State has not named a starter, awaiting the late game result; but all expectations are that LHP Ross Mitchell (8-4) will get the ball even against a right-hand dominant lineup.

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