HATTIESBURG, Miss. (Courtesy UIC Media Relations) – One of the most memorable seasons in the history of the UIC baseball program came to an end on Sunday afternoon as the Flames lost an NCAA Hattiesburg Regional Contest to No. 17 Mississippi State, 5-4.
The offense for UIC (39-17) was stifled by Mississippi State (37-25) and starting pitcher Konnor Pilkington for much of the day. The left-hander struck out a career-high nine and allowed one run on one hit through seven innings before the Flames found new life. UIC scored three times in the eighth and had the bases loaded with one out in the ninth, but the Bulldogs survived a one-run decision.
The Flames, who were eliminated by losing for a second time at the Hattiesburg Regional, conclude the unforgettable 2017 campaign as one of the most successful squads in program history. UIC became the fastest team in school history to win 30 games and it matched the 2002 and 2003 teams with 39 wins on the season.
How It Happened
Mississippi State scored the first run of the game against Reid Birlingmair and the Flames in the top of the third inning. Hunter Stovall stole second base with two outs and he came around to score when Ryan Gridley singled through the left side of the infield.
The Flames didn't waste any time in tying the ballgame in the bottom of the frame. Brandon Gibis opened the inning with a base hit through the right side. After Thomas Norton was hit by a pitch, a sacrifice bunt and a walk, UIC had the bases loaded with one out for Cody Bohanek. Bohanek put a charge into the first pitch he saw and sent it deep to left field, long enough to allow Gibis to tag up and score a game-tying run.
As a light rain began to fall in the top of the fourth inning at Pete Taylor Park, the Bulldogs regained the lead. Elijah McNamee hit an RBI single, as did Cole Gordon. The SEC Player of the Year Brent Rooker then delivered an RBI double with two outs to push his team's lead to 4-1.
Protecting a three-run lead, MSU's Konnor Pilkington settled in on the mound. The left-hander struck out the side in the bottom of the fourth inning to bring his total up to seven for the game.
McNamee continued to swing a hot bat in the top of the fifth. After UIC called upon Noah Masa out of the bullpen, MSU's left fielder greeted him with an RBI double to right-center that gave his team a 5-1 lead.
UIC looked to generate some offense in the bottom of the sixth, but MSU's Stovall had other ideas. The second baseman made consecutive plays on the infield to take away what looked to be base hits from David Cronin and Bohanek.
Relievers Connor Ryan and Alex Padilla teamed up to keep the Bulldogs off the board, but the Flames were chasing four runs when they finally chased Pilkington from the game in the bottom of the eighth. Once again it was Gibis who started the rally with a base hit through the right side. Then Norton hammered a two-base hit to bring two runners into scoring position with nobody out. After a lengthy battle with Pilkington, McDonald popped a base hit to center that scored both runs and swiftly trimmed the deficit to two.
UIC was not done in the eighth, however, McDonald was on second with one away and he advanced to third on a base hit from Bohanek. Following MSU's second pitching change of the inning, Rob Calabrese hit a high chopper that plated McDonald and resulted in an infield single. That brought the Flames within a run, but Riley Self got a fly ball and a strikeout to limit further damage.
UIC's defense helped hold Mississippi State in check in the top of the ninth. After Padilla fanned Rooker, Ryan Gridley hit a ball to left field. The shortstop tried to stretch it to a double, but a perfect relay from Gibis, to Bohanek, to Cronin cut him down for the second out. The Bulldogs notched back-to-back singles before Padilla punched out Hunter Vansau swinging to end the frame.
As it had done all day long, the bottom of the batting order provided the spark for the Flames in the bottom of the ninth. Gibis singled with one out on the seventh pitch of his at-bat against Self before Norton fought his way aboard with a walk in his own seven-pitch trip. Rattled, Self walked McDonald on five pitches to load the bases. The MSU reliever rebounded to get a strikeout before Bohanek hit into a fielder's choice that ended the game and UIC's season.
Beyond the Box Score