Bullpen, Seventh-Inning Rally Lift Bears Past Illinois State, 4-2
April 18, 2014
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - Missouri State overcame a two-run deficit thanks to a three-run seventh-inning rally and a clutch performance from its bullpen to claim a 4-2 victory over Illinois State Friday afternoon in the opening game of the two clubs' Missouri Valley Conference series at Hammons Field.
After losing the services of starting pitcher Cody Schumacher early in the contest, Jon Harris and Sam Perez joined forces to hold the Redbirds to one run on three hits over the final 6.2 innings to give the Bears' offense time to mount its late rally and ultimately pull out the victory. MSU, which improved to 6-4 in Valley play, evened its overall season record at 17-17 to reach the .500 mark for the first time since March 15.
Tate Matheny, who led the MSU attack with a 2-for-4 day at the plate, doubled to spark the Bears' decisive rally in the seventh, then handed the MSU bullpen an insurance run the following inning with his sixth home run of the season - a two-out solo shot that cleared the left-field bullpen and handed Perez a two-run cushion.
The MSU closer would not need the extra support to finish off his second save of the season, as the sophomore right-hander retired all four Redbird hitters he faced after taking over for Harris with the potential tying run at second base in the top half of the eighth inning.
Harris (2-3) earned the victory in his first career relief appearance after being forced into duty when Schumacher sustained an apparent groin injury with one out in the top of the third inning. In all, the sophomore fanned five hitters and allowed just one run on three hits over his 5 1/3 innings.
But Harris' afternoon did not start smoothly, as Sean Beesley greeted the right-hander with a run-scoring single to right that brought in Dennis Colon with the game's first run. Harris plunked the next hitter, Paul DeJong, to load the bases, but settled into a groove to get out of the jam with a strikeout and a tap back to the mound, beginning a stretch over which he would retire 10 straight ISU batters.
The Redbirds (22-12, 5-5 MVC) would use an RBI triple by Brock Stewart in the sixth to add to their lead, after Harris handed out a two-out walk to Daniel Dwyer. Illinois State starter Dan Savas was in control throughout the first six frames, setting down the first nine MSU hitters of the game before running into trouble in the fourth. Blake Graham led off the frame with his first career double, then moved to third on Dylan Becker's base hit through the left side of the infield. But Graham was thrown out at the plate attempting to score on Matheny's fly ball to shallow center, and Matt Fultz struck out swinging to end the threat.
The Redbirds preseason All-American right-hander proceed to retire seven Bears in a row until Matheny led off the key rally of the game with a double into the right-field corner. Next, Eric Cheray drew his second walk of the contest, and Fultz put the Bears on the board with a run-scoring double to right that made it a 2-1 game. Cheray crossed the plate with the equalizing run on an infield single by Spencer Johnson, who then moved into scoring position as well on a Redbird throwing error before Conner Wilson's sacrifice fly to center put MSU on top for the first time.
After yielding the two-out triple to Stewart in the sixth, Harris once again found his rhythm, setting down six straight ISU hitters before Mike Hollenbeck doubled with two out in the eight to force a second call to the Bears' bullpen. Perez promptly squashed the threat, retiring Dwyer on a liner to left, before closing out the victory by coaxing three straight fly balls to left in the ninth.
Schumacher was sharp early for MSU, striking out a pair and allowing just one hit before succumbing to injury and allowing a run on two walks in the third. Cheray also came through for the MSU offense, reaching base in three of his four plate appearances and extending his career-best hit streak to 12 games with an eighth-inning single.
Savas (7-2), who had not surrendered more than two runs in any of his previous nine starts this season, suffered just his second Valley loss since his freshman campaign of 2011 after striking out eight and allowing all four Bears runs on seven hits in a complete-game effort.
The Bears and Redbirds continue their three-game Valley series Saturday (April 19) with another 1:05 p.m. contest at Hammons Field.