Bears Improve to 2-0 With Heart-Stopping Finish at UCA
Feb. 15, 2014
CONWAY, Ark. - Behind its second double-digit hit performance in as many days, Missouri State built a five-run lead before surviving a late rally for a 6-4 victory over the University of Central Arkansas Saturday afternoon at Bear Stadium. After racking up 13 hits in Friday's season-opening win over UCA, MSU out hit the home-standing Bears by a 15-6 margin Saturday to improve to 2-0 on the season.
But it would take another strong effort from the Bears' bullpen to hold off a frantic UCA rally in the ninth inning. After Missouri State carried a 6-2 lead into the home half of the final frame, UCA took advantage of three hits, a pair of walks and a Bears' throwing error to scratch out two runs and put the tying run in scoring position with just one out.
Junior pitcher Adam Anawalt would need just one pitch to induce a game-ending 4-6-3 double-play ball and earn the save in his first mound appearance for MSU.
Anawalt's late heroics made a winner of another first-time MSU hurler, as Bryan Young (1-0) picked up the victory with 3.1 innings of solid relief. The redshirt freshman retired eight of the first nine batters he faced before Tyler Langely launched a two-out solo shot in the eighth to pull UCA to within four runs. In all, Young would allow three runs (two earned) on three hits and a pair of walks while striking out three.
Young made quick work of UCA until running into trouble in the decisive ninth inning, when Justin Treece singled and Chris Townsend walked to set the table for an interesting conclusion. After Wesley Hoover popped up for the first out, Votolato came up with a base hit to left to load the bases.
Junior Tyler Burgess took over for Young and -- with baserunners in motion -- appeared to coax what could have been a game-clinching liner to second off the bat of Nate Ferrell. But Eric Cheray struggled to come up with the ball in the sun, allowing Treece to score from second on the single. Votolato, however, was caught in a rundown between bases, and when Conor Smith's subsequent throw to the plate ahead of Townsend was errant, both remaining baserunners moved into scoring position.
Anawalt's first offering to Austin White was all the Bears would need to close out the win, though, as Cheray flipped to Joey Hawkins, who followed with a strong peg to Smith at first for the game ending twin-killing.
Three Bears registered three-hit games to lead MSU's potent offensive attack. Dylan Becker came through in a big way, going 3-for-4 with a walk, an RBI and a steal, and Smith notched his second straight three-hit effort by recording hits in each of his last three trips to the plate. Additionally, freshman Aaron Meyer singled in the second for his first hit as a Bear, then added two more hits in the later innings to finish 3-for-5.
The duo of Matt Fultz and Spencer Johnson helped key the MSU offense over a three-inning stretch that saw the Bears tally all six of their runs. Fultz doubled twice to drive home three runs, while Johnson singled and walked twice as part of each of the three scoring rallies.
After three scoreless frames to start the day, Missouri State jumped out to a 3-0 lead thanks to a pair of walks and doubles by Fultz and Patrick Drake. Johnson and Cheray got the ball rolling by coaxing back-to-back bases on balls from UCA starter Connor McClain (0-1), and Fultz lined the first pitch he saw down the right field line to chase home both baserunners for a two-run Bears lead. Two batters later, Drake continued his torrid hitting with a two-out RBI double into the gap in left-center to drive in the third MSU run of the inning.
The Bears would extend their advantage to five runs the following inning, as Johnson initiated another scoring chance with a single to left that stretched his career-best hit streak to 12 games. Fultz followed with another two-base hit to right to bring in Johnson, and Smith came through with a run-scoring double of his own to make it a 5-0 game.
MSU starting pitcher Jon Harris worked his way in and out of trouble to make the lead stand. The sophomore issued four two-out walks over the game's first two innings, but escaped without giving up a run each time. Smith gunned down a runner at the plate to end UCA's first-inning threat, and Harris induced a double-play grounder, as well as a two-out roller to short to kill a second-inning scoring chance for the home club.
In the fifth, Harris recorded a pair of quick outs before a Wesley Hoover single and a walk to Votolato ended the right-hander's day. Freshman Jordan Knutson also found the strike zone elusive, issuing a pair of walks to force home the first run of the afternoon for UCA. But the lefty got the key out when he needed it, striking out Joey Pinney for a momentum-swinging final out of the inning.
The Bears responded in the top of the sixth, using hits from Hawkins, Tate Matheny and Becker to reclaim their five-run cushion. MSU left the door slightly open for UCA (0-2), however, leaving a total of six runners in scoring position from the fifth inning on, including coming up empty in each of the final three frames after putting their first two hitters on base on two separate occasions.
Langely paced UCA's six-hit attack with a 2-for-4 day at the plate, while Ferrell and Matt Anderson each drove in a run.
Missouri State and UCA wrap up the opening weekend of the 2014 season with a 1 p.m. contest Sunday.