LAFAYETTE, La. — Myles Gentry verbalized the big picture impact of his relief effort Friday in the No. 17 and second-seeded Mississippi State baseball team’s 5-2 victory against third-seeded San Diego State in the NCAA tournament Lafayette Regional.
“He told me don’t let anybody else pitch today,” Gentry said with a smile when asked what MSU bullpen coach Greg Drye told him before he trotted to the mound.
The Bulldogs’ victory in the opening game of the regional not only set them up for the short term by getting them in the winners’ bracket early, but it also allowed them to have a fresh bullpen entering the final two or three days of the tournament. MSU (38-22) couldn’t have scripted a better scenario for itself than getting a postseason victory without having to use left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren or right-handed closer Jonathan Holder.
“To not to have to use those bullpen arms is big to say the least,” MSU coach John Cohen said.
Cohen preached throughout the week leading up to the Lafayette regional that “tomorrow doesn’t exist.” But Cohen’s ability to prepare his teams for future games when the immediate objective is to win the four-team regional is a major reason he is 10-7 all-time in that phase of the NCAA tournament in his time as coach at Kentucky and MSU.
MSU is 16-7 since April 15, but it has used Lindgren, one of the nation’s best this season, or Holder, the school’s all-time leader in saves, in 13 of those victories. Two of the other three victories in the 46-day period were complete-game outings by Ross Mitchell.
“It’s just kind of weird because every time we get (in a jam) Lingo comes in after me and we’ve scored so many runs after he leaves runners on base in that type of situation,” said MSU junior starting pitcher Trevor Fitts, who started Friday’s game and earned the victory to improve to 5-3.
Fitts went five innings, his second longest outing this month, and allowed three hits and two runs. He pitched himself out of jams early in a game even after MSU sent Gentry and Lindgren to the bullpen in the second inning.
“The telltale sign with Trevor is if he is missing (the strike zone) big, which he really wasn’t doing today,” Cohen said. “When Trevor isn’t missing big, we’re going to keep going with him because he’s a guy that will immediately regroup and shove it right back in the strike zone. That’s what he did after those two runs we gave up in the second inning.”
Lindgren, who leads MSU with a 0.88 ERA, had come on in relief in Fitts’ last seven starts, but with San Diego State being a right-handed dominated lineup, MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson felt the right-handed Gentry would have success using multiple arm angles.
“His last three or four outings have shown the way he is capable of spinning the baseball because his two-seamer has so much late depth to it,” Cohen said. “The velocity is not as critical for him, and it’s all about how the hitters are engaging the pitch.”
Gentry’s ability to go the final four innings saved the depth of MSU’s bullpen. The sophomore didn’t allow a hit or a walk and struck out one in his 34-pitch outing. His effort aided the Bulldogs’ chances to go 2-0 in the regional and improve its odds of advancing to the super regional. In the last 80 regionals in the past five years, 51 winners have run the table undefeated and only eight lost have their opening game but found a way to advance to a super regional.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.