April 11, 2014
PEORIA, Ill. - Missouri State strung together four consecutive two-out hits in the top of the ninth inning to rally for a 6-5 victory over Bradley Friday afternoon in the opening game of the two clubs' Missouri Valley Conference series at Dozer Park. Trailing by a run, Tate Matheny and Matt Fultz delivered run-scoring singles to complete the late comeback after Dylan Becker's triple ignited the MSU offense, which had not recorded a hit over its last six turns at bat.
Given the one-run lead, MSU (14-16, 4-3 MVC) turned to sophomore reliever Sam Perez, who secured his first collegiate save by working around a leadoff single and a one-out walk in the bottom of the ninth. With runners at first and second, the right-hander coaxed an infield pop-up and a soft grounder to second to seal the win for Zach Merciez (1-1), who earned his first victory in his 44th mound appearance for the Bears.
The Bears were able to pull out the decision despite surrendering a three-run lead, then falling behind 5-4 after Bradley pushed across the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning on pinch hitter Brady Wilkin's sacrifice fly. BU closer Matt Dennis appeared to have the game in hand in the ninth after retiring the first two hitters he faced via strikeouts.
But Becker lashed the first pitch he saw into the gap in right-center for a momentum-changing triple--the Bears' first hit of any sort since his one-out RBI single in the second. Matheny followed with a clutch hit of his own, driving Dennis' 3-1 pitch through the right side of the Braves' infield to even the score at 5-5. Not satisfied with just one run, Eric Cheray's bunt single kept the Bears' rally alive and extended the junior's hit streak to a career-best eight games. That set the stage for Fultz's line-drive base hit to right that brought in Matheny from second with what would prove to be the deciding tally.
Becker (2-for-4), Matheny (2-for-5) and Fultz (2-for-5) carried the day for the MSU offense, which out-hit the Bradley by a 10-9 margin in the see-saw battle, thanks largely to a hot start that saw the two clubs combine to score five runs on nine total hits over the first two frames.
The Bears wasted no time in seizing control of the lead, striking for three runs on four hits in the first against BU starter Elliot Ashbeck. Trey Hair coaxed a leadoff walk before Becker laid down a sacrifice bunt to set the stage for Matheny's first run-producing hit of the day--a single up the middle that put MSU on top, 1-0.
Ashbeck recovered momentarily to get the second out on a fly ball to center, but a wild pitch allowed Matheny to scoot all the way to third. Fultz made the Braves pay, driving an RBI single into right to drive home Matheny with the second run of the inning. After a passed ball and a Conner Wilson single kept the inning going, Blake Graham's base hit to right scored Fultz from third to make it a 3-0 game.
BU fought back in its half of the first, cashing in on a one-out walk to Chris Godinez when Max Murphy followed with a run-scoring single to center.
MSU answered right back in the second when Hair singled with one out, swiped second for his first steal as a Bear, then trotted home easily on Becker's hit to right-center that gave the Bears a three-run cushion once again.
Bears' starter Cody Schumacher worked his way out of trouble in the home half of the second to maintain the margin, but BU took advantage of a hit batsman and a walk to score its second run of the day in the fourth without the benefit of a hit.
Schumacher, who struck out eight and walked two on the day, again avoided trouble in the sixth, thwarting a bases-loaded, one-out threat with back-to-back strikeouts of Evan Gruener and Spencer Gaa. The Braves were able to register the key hit they had been missing the following inning, however, as Greg Partyka's two-out, two-run homer to right-center field pulled the home club even at 4-4.
Meanwhile, Ashbeck and reliever Stephen Toma kept the Bears handcuffed at the plate, recording an extended stretch of mastery that saw the duo retire 17 of 20 MSU hitters from the second inning until a two-out error in the eighth set up a scoring threat for the visitors. Toma, who tossed two hitless innings, kept the Braves' momentum rolling, however, fanning Graham and Aaron Meyer to strand a pair of MSU baserunners.
Bradley (17-12, 3-7 MVC) pushed ahead of MSU in the bottom half of the inning when Drew Carlile's third hit of the game--a leadoff double to left--sparked another scoring chance. Wilkin put BU in the driver's seat, lofting a fly ball to left that gave Carlile plenty of time to score from third for a 5-4 advantage.
Dennis (2-1) showed no signs of bucking the trend for the BU mound corps, as the freshman quickly dispatched the first two batters of the ninth with called third strikes. But Becker's second critical hit in the game turned the tables for good, ultimately helping the Bears snap a two-game slide and improve to 11-0 on the season when scoring at least six runs in a contest.
Carlile (3-for-4) paced the Braves attack, while Austin Jarvis added a pair of hits and two sacrifices. Ashbeck posted a strong recovery from his early troubles, finishing his 6.0-inning effort with four consecutive hitless frames and five strikeouts altogether.
With inclement weather expected in Peoria on Sunday, the Bears and Braves will conclude their series with a doubleheader Saturday, tentatively scheduled for 5 p.m., following the conclusion of a previously-scheduled contest at Dozer Park.