STARKVILLE, Miss. — The University of Central Arkansas Bears made it two straight over the previously unbeaten and third-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs, winning 7-3 in baseball Sunday afternoon at Dudy Noble Field.
The Bears (14-2) took the series 2-1 and handed the Bulldogs (17-2) their first two losses of the season. They entered the weekend with a 20-game home winning streak before losing to the Bears, 7-5, on Saturday.
UCA junior righthander Bryce Biggerstaff was in control throughout his second complete-game win of the season, allowing eight hits, three runs while striking out three and walking only one. Biggerstaff, from Central Arkansas Christian, threw a no-hitter against Jackson State two weeks ago to earn conference and national pitcher of the week honors.
“He pitched to his defense, he had his sinker working and he got good, solid defense behind him,” said UCA coach Allen Gum, “They got to him a little bit in the second inning but he came back and made the adjustments and was in control the rest of the way. He was really solid today.”
Mississippi State is the highest-ranked team a UCA athletic team has ever defeated in NCAA Division I play.
The Bears never trailed in either of their victories Saturday or Sunday. In the finale, UCA took a 2-0 lead in the second against MSU starter Kendall Graveman, who struck out seven but allowed four runs, three earned, in 5 2/3 innings. Michael Marietta opened the inning with an infield single and moved to second on Scott Zimmerle’s sacrifice bunt. Blake Marchal followed with an RBI double to right center.
Designated hitter Doug Votolato followed with a single to left center to plate Marchal for a 2-0 lead. The Bulldogs tied it in the bottom of the inning with three of their eight hits on the day, but Biggerstaff blanked them for the next six innings. He set MSU down in order in the fourth and fifth innings, and allowed just one base runner in the sixth.
UCA’s defense turned three double plays behind Biggerstaff, including one to end the sixth inning and another to close the seventh, and played error-free for the second straight day.
“Our defense was key today,” said Gum. “The double plays were huge, at really key points in the game. They made all the difference down the stretch. And we got key hits down the stretch as well, especially in the ninth inning.”
The Bears took the lead for good with a two-run fourth inning. Marchal reached on a fielder’s choice and went to second on a failed pickoff attempt. Garrett Brown walked and Marchal went to third on a wild pitch. Justin Treece’s fielder’s choice scored Marchal and Brown advanced to second on a throwing error. Forrestt Allday made it 4-2 with an RBI base hit to right field.
Facing MSU’s closer Jonathan Holder in the ninth, UCA tacked on three more runs. Holder hit Logan Moon with a pitch to lead off the inning and Allday followed with a single back up the middle. Jonathan Davis was hit by a pitch, the fifth of the day by MSU pitchers, to load the bases.
Marietta had an RBI single to right to score Moon and Zimmerle walked to bring in Allday. Marchal posted the final run with a sacrifice fly to bring in Davis for a 7-2 lead. Hunter Renfroe hit a one-out, solo home run off Biggerstaff in the bottom of the ninth, but he finished it off a fly ball and a ground out.
Marietta, a senior catcher from Oak View, Calif., fnished 3 for 4 with an RBI and run scored, while Allday went 2 for 5 with and RBI and run scored. Marchal had two RBI and two runs scored.
“This was a really nice weekend for us to go into a hostile environment against a very talented team, and to come out with two wins,” Gum said. “It shows us that if we get timely hits, play good defense and pitch to our defense, we can play with anyone. I’m really proud of our guys for how they handled themselves this weekend. It was a good weekend for UCA baseball.’
UCA hosts UAPB at 6 p.m. Tuesday before heading back on the road this weekend at Southern Mississippi.