Late Surge Lifts Bears to Second Straight Valley Tournament Victory
May 22, 2014
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - Missouri State continued a late-season offensive surge Thursday afternoon, rallying from an early deficit against Bradley for a 7-2 victory at the Missouri Valley Conference Championship. The Bears snapped a 2-2 tie with a five-run seventh inning, then relied on a shutdown performance from its bullpen to advance to a Friday rematch with Dallas Baptist.
After receiving a lift from its bench with a pair of two-run hits in Wednesday's win over host Indiana State, Missouri State once again got a boost from its reserve corps against the Braves. Trey Massenberg went 2-for-2, including a leadoff double to right that sparked the Bears' game-changing rally in the seventh, and scored a pair of runs after entering the game as a pinch hitter in the fifth frame.
Additionally, Alex Jefferson drove in two critical runs with a pinch hit of his own during the pivotal rally, turning a one-run MSU lead into a 5-2 advantage.
The Bears' bullpen was equally as crucial to the outcome of the contest, as Zach Merciez and Jake Powers combined to strike out 11 batters over the final 7.2 innings, allowing just one run on four hits after being pressed into early duty in the second inning. Powers (3-5) was particularly dominant, fanning the final six BU batters of the game to cap off a perfect 3 2/3-inning stint. The senior right-hander, who held the Braves hitless over 3.2 innings in an April 12 win in Peoria as well, struck out eight altogether in slamming the door on BU's tournament run.
Four different Bears registered two-hit games, led by Tate Matheny's 2-for-3 effort that included a pair of walks and a career-high two steals as well. The Bears center fielder put the Bears on the board with a one-out RBI single in the fifth, before stealing second and moving to third on Patrick Drake's fly ball to center. Matheny's hustle on the basepaths paid off moments later, as the sophomore easily scored the equalizing tally when BU reliever Matt Dennis (4-3) uncorked a wild pitch.
Eric Cheray delivered a pair of hits for MSU as well, including the first of three consecutive two-out hits in the seventh that ultimately broke the game open. Finally, Dylan Becker reached safely in each of his last three trips to the plate, drawing a walk in the fourth before a single and stolen base in the sixth and a rally-capping two-run double in the seventh that stretch the Bears' lead to 7-2.
The late offensive explosion stood in contrast to the first half of the contest for MSU, which struggled to cash in on several prime scoring chances. Bradley, on the other hand, managed to build a two-run lead thanks to a series of two-out hits and some clutch pitching over the first five innings. After dropping a 6-5 decision to Dallas Baptist to open play Thursday, BU wasted no time in gaining the upper hand against the Bears. The Braves touched up MSU starter Matt Hall for four hits in the top of the first, including three straight two-out singles to take a 1-0 lead on Tyler Leffler's liner to left-center.
BU would threaten again in the second when Austin Jarvis and Isaac Smith, the bottom two hitters in the Braves' order, drew back-to-back one-out walks to chase Hall from the contest. Merciez took over for MSU and promptly retired the side on just two pitches, coaxing a fly ball to left off the bat of Chris Godinez and a ground ball to short from Spencer Gaa to keep it a one-run game.
Missouri State generated its first scoring chance in the second, getting a leadoff hit from Cheray and line-drive single by Conor Smith to put a pair of runners on base. But BU starter Cameron Roegner induced a bouncer to second from Becker before striking out Matt Fultz to squash the threat.
Matt Dezort's walk to start the third, and Matheny's one-out infield single set up another opportunity for MSU. After a double steal put two more Bears in scoring position, Roegner came up big once again for the Braves, getting Drake to look at a called third strike before retiring Cheray on a fly out to right.
Bradley benefitted from its fourth two-out hit of the afternoon--this one from Greg Partyka--to push its lead to 2-0 in the fifth. Spencer Gaa sparked the rally with a one-out hit, then swiped second for his 15th steal of the season before trotting home on Partyka's liner through the left side of the Bears' infield.
But Massenberg sparked the Missouri State offense with a pinch single to start the fifth, beginning a three-inning stretch that would see the Bears pound out seven of their 10 hits to take control of the game for good. After doubling to get the Bears going in the seventh, he would move to third on Joey Hawkins' MSU-record-tying third sacrifice hit of the afternoon before coming home with the go-ahead run on Drake's sacrifice fly to center. Cheray then singled to center and Johnson walked to set up Jefferson's chopper through the left side and Becker's blast to deep right that cleared the bases and made it a 7-2 game.
Powers eliminated any doubt about the outcome of the game, blazing through the final two frames to extend an impressive career MVC Championship run that includes 14 career strikeouts and just one earned run allowed over 14.0 innings pitched.
Dennis suffered his second loss to the Bears this season after allowing six runs on five hits over his 3 2/3 innings. Partyka led the Braves at the plate with a 2-for-4 day, and Max Murphy contributed two hits and scored a run for BU, which finished its season with a 24-27 overall mark.
With the win the Bears (25-30) advance to their school-record eighth match-up of the season Friday (May 23) against Dallas Baptist, which defeated MSU, 3-2 in 10 innings to open the Valley Championship Tuesday. The first pitch is slated for 11:37 a.m. (Central), with a second game to follow later in the day should the Bears prevail in the first contest.