Bears take down No. 23 Bulldogs in Starkville

STARKVILLE, Miss. — The University of Central Arkansas Bears carried a no-hitter into the 6th inning against No. 23 Mississippi State on Tuesday and eventually survived and pulled off a 7-6 upset of the Bulldogs at storied Dudy Noble Field.

UCA (13-15) led 7-2 headed to the bottom of the ninth inning but saw the Bulldogs score four times on four hits, including a home run. However, UCA sophomore right-hander Charlie Christensen struck out MSU’s Nos. 3 and 4 hitters with the bases loaded to end it. The first strikeout was MSU’s leading hitter Dakota Jordan, who entered the game with a .393 batting average and 14 home runs. 

“I am really proud of our team,” said UCA head coach Nick Harlan. “Really no surprise that we won today. I feel like our team, they believe that they can beat anybody in the country and they prepare that way. And it was no different today.

“I thought our preparation was really good last night when we were practicing, and the mindset was great this morning in BP (batting practice). Just really, really happy for the guys. That was a good win for the program.”

The Bears are now 5-3 in games played at Dudy Noble since 2012. It was UCA’s second win over a Top 25 Southeastern Conference team in the past two seasons, following a 5-4 win over No. 10 Vanderbilt a year ago. UCA has played four games against SEC competition this season, losing a pair of two-run games (LSU and Arkansas) and a one-run game (LSU). 

The Bears trailed 1-0 after one inning but the UCA broke the game open with five runs in the third against MSU reliever Logan Forsythe. Mason King drew a walk and stole second base. With two outs, Bryce Cermenelli was hit by a pitch and Drew Sturgeon walked to load the bases.

Jagger Schattle followed with a two-run single, scoring Cermenelli and King. Catcher Casey Shipley then blasted his third home run of the season, a three-run home shot over the center field fence, to give the Bears a 5-1 lead.

UCA increased its lead to 7-1 with single runs in the fourth and fifth. A.J. Mendolia and Kade Seldomridge had consecutive doubles on consecutive pitches in the fourth inning. In the fifth, Sturgeon opened with an infield hit, stole second and went to third on Zeb Allen’s bunt single.

Pinch hitter Jake Trabbie’s sacrifice fly to left field brought in Sturgeon for the 7-1 lead.

But the Bulldogs (19-11) made it exciting with a run in the eighth and four more in the ninth. In their last at-bat, the Bulldogs started it with a solo home run by Hunter Hines, then an RBI single by Jackson McKenzie cut it to 7-4. Johnny Long added a two-run single to left field to pull within one run.

The Bears intentionally walked David Mershon to load the bases with one out. Christensen then struck out Jordan on five pitches and Hines on seven pitches to preserve the win.

Starter Payton Windham tossed three hitless innings, and Coleman MacRae added three more scoreless frames, finally allowing MSU’s first hit in the sixth. 

“It was really good to see Windy (Windham) get out there and give us a good, solid start,” said Harlan. “His stuff looked good, I thought his poise on the mound was really good. And Chuck (Christensen) wanted the ball today, he wanted to come up big for his team. And when the pressure was on, he stayed completely calm, was very poised and made pitches when he had to.

“I was just really happy to see those guys have success and to watch our guys celebrate that win.” 

The Bears finished with eight hits off six MSU pitchers, including two by first baseman Schattle. Shipley went 1 for 3 with 3 runs batted in.

MSU was held to five hits after averaging 9.9 per game on the season.

UCA returns to ASUN Conference play this weekend at Florida Gulf Coast in Fort Myers, Fla.