The University of Central Arkansas Bears have been red-hot at home this season, but they travel to Starkville, Miss., this weekend to face an even hotter baseball team.
UCA (12-1) will face the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who have the nation’s longest winning streak to open the 2013 season. The Bulldogs, ranked as high as No. 3 in one of this week’s national polls, are 16-0 on the year, with all of the victories coming at home at storied Dudy Noble Field.
The Bears, 11-0 at home this season, have only lost at then-No. 2 Vanderbilt on Feb. 20 in Nashville. UCA has won nine straight since that loss, including victories over Kansas and Wichita State, and series wins over Murray State, Jackson State, Mississippi Valley State and New Orleans.
The Bears are the top scoring team in the nation at 9.9 runs per outing. They also lead the Southland Conference in pitching with a 2.12 earned-run average and are second in the SLC in hitting at an even .300.
Mississippi State’s numbers are even more impressive. The Bulldogs are hitting .330 and have a minuscule ERA of 1.25. UCA won the only previous meeting of the teams, prevailing 2-0 last year in Starkville. The Bears’ only other victory over a Southeastern Conference team came against MSU’s biggest rival Ole Miss in 2008 in Oxford.
After playing 11 of their first 12 games at home at Bear Stadium, the Bears will be on the road for 12 of their next 13 games, including a series next weekend at Southern Miss and their opening SLC weekend series at Oral Roberts in Tulsa.
UCA senior right fielder Forrestt Allday, a preseason first-team All-SLC selection, is leading the league in nearly every offensive category. He is No. 1 in batting average (.491), hits (27), runs scored (19), RBIs (19), total bases (37), on-base percentage (.554), slugging percentage (.673) and is tied with teammates Jonathan Davis and Justin Treece for the stolen base lead (7).
The big plus for the Bears so far this season has been the pitching staff. Weekend starters Caleb McClanahan, Jeffery Enloe and Bryce Biggerstaff are a combined 7-0 in nine starts. McClanahan, a senior right hander, is 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA, with 15 strikeouts and just 1 walk. Enloe, a senior lefty, is 3-0 with a 2.38 and 25 strikeouts. Biggerstaff threw a no-hitter two weeks ago and is 1-0 with a 1.89 ERA.
Out of the bullpen, senior Ethan McKinzie is 2-0 with a 1.32 ERA. Sophomore Connor McClain of Conway is 1-0 with the team’s only save and has not allowed a run this season.
The Bulldogs’ No. 3 ranking by Baseball America is their highest since they were No. 1 in 2006. MSU is fifth in the Collegiate Baseball poll and No. 6 in the USA Today/Coaches poll. UCA received votes for the first time in both the NCBWA and the USA Today/Coaches poll on Tuesday.