April 17, 2014
Missouri State Game Notes
Missouri State Bears (16-17, 5-4 MVC) vs. Illinois State Redbirds (22-11, 5-4 MVC)
Dates/Times: Friday, April 18 - 1:05 p.m.
Saturday, April 19 - 1:05 p.m.
Sunday, April 20 - 1:05 p.m.
Location: Springfield, Mo.
Site: Hammons Field (8,000)
Series History: MSU leads 51-36
Radio: KBFL 1060 AM (Art Hains)
Live Audio: RadioSpringfield.com
Live Video (Saturday): Bears All-Access
Tickets: MSU Athletics Box Office
Promotion (Sunday): Missouri State-Springfield Cardinals doubleheader tickets for $7
The Missouri State Bears (16-17, 5-4 MVC) welcome the Illinois State Redbirds (22-11, 5-4 MVC) to Hammons Field this weekend for a pivotal three-game Missouri Valley Conference series. Riding a three-game home win streak, the Bears will open the series Friday (April 18) with a 1:05 p.m. contest, before wrapping up the weekend with single games Saturday and Sunday, which are also scheduled for 1:05 p.m. starts.
MSU and ISU enter the weekend even in the MVC standings with 5-4 league marks, good for fourth place. The Bears have won three of their last four games, including a series win at Bradley last weekend. The Redbirds come into the series a season-best 11 games over the .500 mark having won three straight contests since dropping two of three games to league-leading Dallas Baptist two weeks ago.
Up next, the Bears begin a stretch that will see them play eight of their next nine games on the road, beginning with a non-conference match-up against Kansas in Lawrence Wednesday (April 23) evening. MSU will then travel to UT Martin for a three-game weekend series (April 25-27), before briefly returning to Hammons Field for an April 29 tilt against Arkansas.
♦ Missouri State leads the all-time series with Illinois State, 51-36, including a 25-14 mark at home; the Bears have been even more dominant at Hammons Field, logging a 12-3 home mark against the Redbirds since 2004
♦ In five previous regular-season series with Illinois State at Hammons Field, MSU has posted a sweep four times, while the Redbirds swept the Bears in a three-game set in 2010 for their only road wins in the series since Hammons opened in 2004
♦ Eric Cheray is hitting .415 (17-for-41) with eight RBIs and nine walks -- good for a .515 on-base percentage -- as well as three steals and 11 runs scored over his career-best 11-game hit streak
♦ MSU has logged five runs and/or 10 hits in seven of its last 10 games after doing so just once in its previous 10 contests
♦ The Bears have averaged 5.9 runs per game in winning five of their last seven MVC games and rank second in the Valley in team hitting (.277) during MVC play
♦ Jake Powers leads the Valley in ERA (0.00) and opposing batting average (.094), while Zach Merciez ranks second in opponent's average (.107) and fourth in ERA (1.00) in MVC play
♦ Matt Fultz has batted .421 (8-for-19) with four RBIs and four runs scored to help the Bears claim wins in three out of their last four games; Fultz has 10 multi-hit games and a team-high three game-winning RBIs in 31 starts this year
♦ The Bears are 13-0 when scoring at least six runs this season, but just 3-17 when totaling five runs or less
♦ Tate Matheny leads the MVC in hits (16), home runs (3) and total bases (26) in league play and ranks among the top five individual players in five other statistical categories entering the weekend
Missouri State holds a commanding 51-36 advantage in its series with Illinois State, which dates back to 1969. The Bears have won 25 of the previous 39 meetings in Springfield, including both games of a weather-shortened Valley series two years ago. Each of the five regular-season series played by the two programs at Hammons Field since 2004 have ended in sweeps, four of which have gone in the Bears' favor. MSU won its first 10 games against the Redbirds in Hammons until ISU turned the tables and swept the Bears in a three-game set in 2010.
Last year, the Redbirds claimed three of their four meetings with the Bears in Normal, taking two of three during the regular-season before handing MSU its first loss of the Valley Championship in late May. ISU limited the Bears to an overall team batting mark of .164 and just 10 total runs in the four games.
Bears Peaking In Valley Play
After totaling just one run in dropping its first two Missouri Valley Conference games at Wichita State (March 21-22), Missouri State has flipped the switch on offense, registering the second-highest team batting average (.277) in league play entering this weekend's action. Despite ranking eighth overall this season in both hitting and scoring, the Bears have averaged 4.7 runs per contest in conference games -- good for fourth in the circuit -- and totaled 41 runs (an average of 5.9 per game) en route to winning five of their last seven MVC contests.
Several Bears have turned the corner to rank among the Valley's individual leaders in league play as well. Leading the ways has been Tate Matheny, who ranks in the top five in eight different offensive categories, including MVC best totals for hits (16), home runs (3) and total bases (26) in conference play. The sophomore's .421 batting average leads the Bears in MVC action and rates as the second-highest mark overall in the league. He also ranks second in slugging (.684) and runs scored (9), as well as fourth in on-base percentage (.488) and fifth in RBIs (8). Freshman Aaron Meyer has also enjoyed a hot start to the league season, bringing the No. 4 individual batting mark (.391) into this weekend's series.
On the mound, MSU has received a lift from Jake Powers and Zach Merciez, each of whom rank among the league leaders in ERA and opponent's batting average. Powers, who has yet to allow an earned run in MVC play, shares the league lead in ERA while owning the top batting average against (.094). Merceiz is right on his teammate's tail in opponent average with a .107 mark, while his 1.00 ERA in conference play is the fourth-best among all Valley pitchers.
New-Look Lineup Spurs Offensive Outburst
Missouri State enters this weekend's series with Illinois State averaging nearly seven runs per game over its last four outings. The Bears, who have hit .338 with a .439 on-base percentage over the same stretch, have enjoyed an offensive renaissance thanks in large part to the trio of Blake Graham, Alex Jefferson and Conner Wilson, which entered last weekend's series at Bradley with just 11 combined starts on the year. Since that time, the three have hit a collective .389 (7-for-18) with 10 walks, good for a .486 on-base percentage, to spark the MSU offense. Graham has served as a catalyst at the top of the MSU batting order, logging hits in each of his last four starts overall, including a pair of singles and an RBI in MSU's last four games. Jefferson went 2-for-2 with a pair of runs scored to help the Bears lock up the road series win in Peoria on Saturday, launching his first collegiate homer in his first at-bat following a six-week layoff due to injury. Finally, Wilson collected three hits in seven official at-bats and drew five walks against the Braves, then added a run-scoring single in Tuesday's win over Missouri.
Cheray Keeps Streaking
Eric Cheray extended his career-best hit streak to 11 games with a key two-run double in the fourth inning of Tuesday night's 9-0 victory over Missouri. The junior second baseman turned in a red-hot performance at the plate last weekend in Peoria, including five hits in MSU's doubleheader split with the Braves Saturday, highlighted by a 3-for-5 effort in which he scored twice to help his club lock up a rare road series win over BU. In all, Cheray has hit .415 (17-for-41) with 11 runs scored and eight RBIs to go along with three steals, nine walks and a .510 on-base percentage over the course of his streak.
Cheray has been outstanding in the field as well, handling all 50 of his defensive chances flawlessly during the 11-game stretch. For the season, he ranks second among all Valley second sackers with a .980 fielding percentage, and fifth overall in the league with 100 assists.
In Rare Company
With the Bears' victory over Missouri on Tuesday, MSU bench boss Keith Guttin moved into a tie for the 37th spot on the NCAA's Division I all-time coaching wins list, matching Les Murakami of Hawaii with his 1,079th career victory. Guttin needs five more victories to catch Steve Kittrell (South Alabama) in the No. 36 spot and seven additional wins to match the career totals of current Georgia Tech bench boss Danny Hall and former Florida International coach Danny Price. The Bears' 32nd-year head coach previously passed former Indiana State coach Bob Warn with MSU's victory over Abilene Christian on March 7, making him the second-winningest Valley coach behind Wichita State's Gene Stephenson (1,837).