March 18, 2016
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - Justin Paulsen's two-run single in the bottom of the fifth inning snapped a 1-1 tie and propelled Missouri State to its sixth-consecutive victory with a 4-1 decision over Iowa in the opening contest of a three-game series Friday afternoon at Hammons Field.
With runners at second and third and two out in the fifth, Paulsen laced an 0-1 pitch from C.J. Eldred into right field to chase home both baserunners for a 3-1 lead that MSU starter Jordan Knutson and a pair of relievers would not relinquish. Sam Perez followed a strong 5 2/3-inning stint by Knutson with 2.1 shutout frames, before Bryan Young put the finishing touches on the win by striking out the side in the ninth.
Despite being held to five hits on the day, the Bears (15-2) rallied for their eighth come-from-behind victory of the season to secure the best 17-game opening stretch to a season in the 53-year history of the Missouri State baseball program.
After Iowa (6-9) struck for its lone tally of the day in the top of the first thanks to back-to-back one-out hits by Nick Roscetti and Tyler Peyton, MSU was able to begin its comeback thanks to a bit of luck in the home half of the first. Leadoff man Hunter Steinmetz hit what appeared to be a routine fly ball to left-center field, but a miscommunication allowed the ball to drop for a double. Steinmetz moved to third on the first of Eldred's four wild pitches, before Blake Graham brought him home with a sacrifice fly to left.
Knutson (4-1) settled into a groove from that point, retiring eight straight Hawkeyes at one point and 11 of 12 from the second inning through the fifth. The junior lefty would strike out six hitters and yield just six hits before Perez took over with two on and two out in the sixth.
Eldred (1-2) avoided trouble in both the third and fourth frames, as the Bears put runners in scoring position in each inning before the Hawkeyes sophomore hurler picked up critical rally-killing outs in both cases.
But a Spencer Johnson single with one out in the fifth set the wheels in motion for MSU's critical rally. Eldred then walked Jake Burger for the third time in the game, and another wild pitch allowed both baserunners to move up a station. After getting Graham to bounce out to first for the second out, Eldred would not be as successful against Paulsen, who drove his second offering through the right side for the game's biggest blow.
Iowa would threaten immediately in the top of the sixth, using base hits by Joel Booker and Roscetti to set the stage. But Knutson came up with strikeouts of Peyton and Austin Guzzo, and Perez squashed the rally for good by inducing a bouncer to third, where Burger made a clean play and throw to Paulsen at first to get the Bears out of the inning unharmed.
A leadoff single by Matt Fultz in the sixth would ultimately produce an insurance run for the Bears. Jeremy Eierman sacrificed Fultz into scoring position, before two more wild pitches brought the MSU catcher home for a three-run Bears cushion.
Young quickly dispatched the first two Iowa hitters in the ninth via strikeouts, but a walk to Jimmy Frankos and a pinch-hit single by Robert Neustrom brought the potential tying run to the plate. But the Bears' All-American closer would not flinch, getting Corbin Woods to chase a 2-2 pitch for the game-ending strikeout.
Roscetti paced Iowa's eight-hit attack with a 2-for-4 effort, while Daniel Aaron Moriel also chipped in with two hits in as many at-bats.
Eldred was tagged with the loss after allowing all four MSU runs on five hits over his 5.2 innings, and Nick Allgeyer worked 2 1/3 hitless innings of relief for the Hawkeyes.
The two clubs will face off again Saturday (March 19) for game two of the series, which is set to start at 2:05 p.m. at Hammons Field.