March 5, 2016
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - Missouri State scored seven times over a two-inning stretch to overturn an early deficit en route to its fifth consecutive victory with a 12-5 decision over SIU Edwardsville Saturday afternoon at Hammons Field. With their eighth win, the Bears notched their best start over the first nine games of a season since 1999.
Justin Paulsen came within a triple of hitting for the cycle, including a game-sealing eighth-inning grand slam for his first long ball of the season, and Blake Graham starred at the plate and in the field, finishing 2-for-3 with three RBIs, two steals in addition to a diving catch in right field that stalled a potential big inning for SIUE in the seventh.
For Missouri State, the comfortable final margin followed an uncharacteristic start that saw SIUE take advantage of the Bears' early charity to grab a 1-0 lead in the second on Jackson Layton's RBI single. After MSU starter Jake Lochner cruised through a 1-2-3 first inning, the freshman struggled with his command and issued three consecutive walks to set up Layton's first career hit-a line drive into left that brought home Stewart.
Lochner would wiggle his way out of trouble by coaxing a 5-4-3 double play ball, but the lefty could not escape the third after handing out two more walks to start the inning. Fellow freshman Ryan Mantle took over on the mound and escaped the inning unharmed with the help of a second twin-killing, this one coming via Stewart's ground ball to short with the bases full and just one out.
The key stretch of the contest came in the fourth and fifth innings after Cougars starting pitcher Conner Buenger (0-3) had limited the Bears to a single hit over the first three frames. MSU kicked its offense into high gear in the fourth, as an error on a Jake Burger grounder to third opened the door to a four-run rally. Paulsen singled to set up a Graham sacrifice fly that knotted the score at 1-1, before Spencer Johnson and Matt Fultz delivered back-to-back base hits to put the Bears in front. Hunter Steinmetz then lined a clutch two-out, two-run single into left-center for a 4-1 MSU lead.
But the Cougars (0-8) threatened to equal the Bears' charge in the fifth against Mantle (1-0), after the right-hander issued two of the eight free passes handed out by MSU pitchers before allowing the second SIUE run of the day to cross the plate on an error. Senior right-hander Sam Perez extinguished the rally, however, striking out Jacob Stewart and Aaron Jackson in succession to strand the potential tying and go-ahead runs on base.
Perez would work 3.2 innings altogether, allowing three unearned runs on three hits while striking out six batters for the third time in five outings this season.
Burger ignited a second offensive outburst the following inning, lacing a leadoff single up the middle and paving the way for the first four MSU hitters to reach base safely. After Paulsen doubled, Graham drove home a pair with a single to center, and pinch hitter Matt Dezort brought home a third run in the inning with a single to right that stretched the margin to 7-2.
After a pair of runs scored on the heels of a Missouri State error in the eighth, the Bears batted around for the second time in the contest to put the game out of reach. Jeremy Eierman extended his hit streak to six games with a leadoff double, before Aaron Meyer singled and Burger was intentionally passed. Paulsen wasted no time in making the Cougars pay for that decision, launching the first pitch from Brandon Tatum over the wall in right-center for a back-breaking grand slam and an 11-5 advantage.
Graham scored moments later after walking, stealing second and moving to third on a passed ball before Eduardo Castro's liner to left fell untouched for an RBI single.
Junior right-hander Ryan Dunne closed out the victory by striking out the side in the ninth in his first career appearance at Hammons Field.
Paulsen established a new career high for RBIs (4) with his first grand slam as a Bear, while also matching personal single-game bests for hits and runs scored (3) with his 3-for-5 performance.
Layton led the Cougars' attack with a pair of RBIs in his 1-for-4 effort at the plate.
MSU will look for the series sweep and its best 10-game start to a season in a quarter of a century Sunday (March 6) with a 1:05 p.m. contest against the Cougars.