Bears Open Season With 11-5 Victory at UCA
Feb. 14, 2014
CONWAY, Ark. - Missouri State opened the 2014 baseball campaign in mid-season form, as the Bears pounded out 13 hits in an 11-5 victory over the University of Central Arkansas Friday afternoon at Bear Stadium. Led by three-hit performances from Patrick Drake and Conor Smith, MSU rallied for eight runs over a three-inning stretch to pull away from the host Bears in the season opener for both clubs.
Drake sparked MSU's offense with a school-record-tying three doubles and three runs batted-in, while Smith scored three times and drove home two more with a 3-for-5 afternoon. Two additional Bears - Matt Fultz and Spencer Johnson - turned in two-hit games to help MSU post its best offensive effort in an opener since 2008.
The decisive outburst occurred in the fifth, as Dylan Becker launched a majestic two-run homer to right to erase a one-run deficit after one of UCA's five errors on the day opened the door for MSU. Johnson then singled, swiped second base and came around for the third MSU tally in the inning on Fultz's RBI single through the right side of the infield.
Missouri State added a run in the sixth when Drake doubled and scored on a Tate Matheny ground ball, then broke the game open with four runs in the seventh. Eric Cheray singled and Fultz walked to set the stage ahead of back-to-back run-scoring hits by Smith and pinch hitter Matt Dezort. Drake drove in his third run of the game with a grounder to short, and Dezort scored on a wild pitch to account for the final score.
With its offense in high gear, Missouri State's bullpen performed some heavy lifting as well by holding the Bears to just one unearned run over five innings in relief of starter Matt Hall. Cody Schumacher (1-0) earned his 10th victory as a Bear and moved up to fifth on MSU's all-time winning percentage list for pitchers with four solid innings in his first appearance since a shoulder injury cut his 2013 season short last April. The senior right-hander retired eight straight batters at one point and held UCA to two hits while striking out four.
Missouri State opened the scoring in the second inning, as Fultz lined a double into the left field corner in his first at-bat as a Bear to kick off a two-run rally. Smith followed with a line-drive single to right to plate MSU's first run of the season, and Drake made it a 2-0 game two hitters later with the first of his three doubles on the day.
UCA got on the board in the home half of the third, slicing Missouri State's lead in half thanks to a triple off the bat of Justin Treece and a Chris Townsend sacrifice fly to right. After MSU reclaimed its two-run cushion in the fourth on doubles by Smith and Drake, the homestanding Bears answered promptly with a three-run rally to take their lone lead of the game. Doug Votolato blooped a double to right, and Scott Zimmerle singled to drive home the first run of the inning for UCA. Back-to-back walks to Tyler Langely and Brandon Montalvo loaded the bases before Treece struck again with a a two-run single to right to hand UCA a 4-3 edge.
But the Bears answered in a big way, as Becker put MSU up for good with his fourth career long ball, and the MSU bullpen took care of the rest. Schumacher yielded a single unearned run in the fifth on his own throwing error - the Bears' only defensive miscue of the game - then set down 10 of the last 11 hitters he faced. Zach Merciez closed out the victory with a scoreless ninth, as the Bears' relief duo kept UCA off the board in each of the final four innings.
Hall was in command for much of his four-inning appearance, particularly at the outset of the game when he retired the first seven batters he faced. The sophomore allowed four runs - three of which came in the fourth after he logged a pair of strikeouts to start the inning - and finished his day with five strikeouts.
UCA starter Bryce Biggerstaff (0-1) was tagged with the loss after giving up six runs on eight hits over five innings.
Treece starred for the home team, collecting three hits and driving in two runs, while Votolato added a pair of hits to the UCA attack.
Game two of the series is slated for Saturday at 2 p.m., before the two clubs conclude opening weekend with a 1 p.m. contest Sunday.