June 2, 2012

CBI Live: #1 Florida State 8, #3 Samford 1

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Bullpen, bats lift Bulldogs past Blazers

By Andrew Krause



TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The two-seed wasn’t quite ready to go home yet.


Second-seeded Mississippi State used a five-run fifth inning to pull away from fourth-seeded UAB 8-1 in an elimination game Saturday at Dick Howser Stadium.


UAB’s Ryan Nance and Mississippi State’s Kendall Gravemen breezed through the first three innings, and it appeared as if the game was destined to be another low-scoring affair for two clubs that combined to score one run in their respective games against Samford and Florida State on Friday.


Gravemen (3.1 IP, H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K) ran into a little bump in the road in the fourth inning, and MSU head coach Josh Cohen elected to go the bullpen early, bringing in lefty Ross Mitchell with one out in the fourth after Gravemen had walked and hit back to back hitters. Mitchell got out of the jam, inducing an inning-ending ground ball double play.


“There was nothing wrong with Kendall but we just wanted to get left-on-left,” Cohen said. “Kendall wasn’t happy about that, but again the strength of our club is our bullpen and I thought that they were the story of the ball game.”


Nance, starting only his third game of the season, did not allow a hit until the fourth and set a career-high with seven strikeouts.


“Nance was just outstanding like he was in the Conference USA Championship Game against Memphis,” Cohen said. “He threw strikes and he got to both sides [of the plate] with his fastball and breaking ball.”


“I thought Ryan Nance was super once again,” said UAB head coach Brian Shoop. “He kept us in the game and gave us a great chance.”


However, in the fifth, the Bulldogs (40-23) finally broke through and scored for the first time since the fourth inning of the SEC Championship Game (17.2 innings). Nance quickly retired the first two hitters, but Matthew Britton and Mitch Slauter both walked.  Slauter’s at-bat was particularly impressive, as the catcher continually fouled off pitches, forcing Nance to throw eleven pitches. The next hitter, second baseman Sam Frost, drove a 1-1 pitch into right center field for a two-run double.


“He was really trying to bust me in,” said Frost (1 for 4, 3 RBI). “So I got up there looking for something in, but he left it over the middle and the way we’ve been through the season is once we get one run, we really start rolling.”


Nance (4-4, 4.2 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 7 K) walked the next two hitters and was relieved after a career-high 95 pitches. Chase Mallard came in with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth and induced Trey Porter into a flyout, keeping the Blazers (32-30) within striking distance.


In the bottom of the fifth, the Blazers answered with one run of their own. Keith DePew walked and Tanner Bryant singled to start off the inning. After Ross Mitchell balked, Tyler Mims drove in DePew with a groundout to shortstop. Caleb Reed came in to record the final two outs of the inning and keep the Bulldog lead intact.


However, in the top of the sixth, the Bulldogs padded their lead and put the game out of reach with a five-run outburst. Hunter Renfroe led off with a double, Luis Pollorena reached via a bunt single down the third base line, and Wes Rea drove both in with a RBI double down the left field line. The inning continued as Britton reached on a mishandled bunt and Mitch Slauter picked up a RBI with a perfectly-executed squeeze bunt. 


“The wheels kind of fell off in the sixth for us,” Shoop said. “I would tell you—and I’d have trouble convincing you—but I’d tell you that we are normally a pretty good short game team. We [usually] defend the bunt well. We didn’t today.”


A two-out error by shortstop Tanner Bryant led to another run, and a RBI single by Trey Porter later in the frame capped the scoring for MSU.


Frost and Britton (2 for 3, 3 R), who came into the contest hitting .218 and .154 respectively, helped the Bulldogs add another run in the top of the seventh when Frost drove in Britton, who had doubled, with a sacrifice fly.


“They just keep battling through it,” Cohen said of his infielders’ rough year offensively. “These guys give tremendous effort. They come to work every day. You’d think they’re both hitting .400…that’s the way they act and that’s what you want.”


Reed (4.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K) shut down the Blazers, holding them scoreless over the final four innings to pick up his ninth save.


UAB has been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, but Coach Shoop refused to dwell on the loss.” I don’t want those two losses to be the focal point or take away from an incredible accomplishment by this group of young men to win the Conference USA Championship—the first in the history of the program. It’s not like we have a history and tradition like Florida State and Mississippi State have. It has to start somewhere and I’m always going to remember this season.”


With the victory, MSU will play the loser of the Florida State-Samford game in an elimination game Sunday at 12 p.m..