Jake Burger’s two-run homer in the bottom of the 11th inning handed Missouri State a 5-3 victory over Bradley in the Missouri Valley Conference season opener for both clubs Friday evening at Hammons Field.
After Hunter Steinmetz drew a leadoff walk to start the 11th, Burger lined an 0-1 pitch from BU reliever Eric Scheuermann (0-3) into the left-field bullpen to give the Bears (16-9, 1-0 MVC) their 11th victory in their last 12 Valley openers. His 10th long ball of the season atoned for an eighth-inning error by the All-American third baseman that allowed the Braves to push home the tying run.
Burger’s 35th career homer as a Bear made a winner of junior reliever Jake Fromson (3-2), who allowed just one unearned run over the final five innings. It also moved Burger into Bears’ all-time top 10 chart for career home runs, matching the MSU totals of Lance Burkhart and Jon Hale.
While Burger’s late-inning heroics put the finishing touches on a successful conference opener, it was Jeremy Eierman who put the Bears in front earlier in the night. The sophomore shortstop belted a key home run of his own to tie the score at 2-2 in the fourth, then put MSU on top with a two-out, RBI single in the fifth.
Drew Millas, who finished 2-for-3 and reached base four times, drove in the first MSU tally of the game with a two-out RBI single to center in the second. Alex Jefferson drew a free base when BU starter Nathan Stong plunked him with a two-out offering, and Blake Graham reached on catcher’s interference to move the runner into scoring position.
MSU starter Jordan Knutson carried the lead through the sixth with another strong start in which the senior rebounded from a rocky first inning to post his fifth quality start in seven outings this spring. Bradley jumped on Knutson with four straight hits to open the game, taking a 2-0 lead on a Derek Bangert run-scoring hit and an Ian Kristan ground ball.
But Knutson would just four more singles in keeping BU off the scoreboard the rest of the way, fanning seven Braves in the process.
The Bears squandered opportunities to put the game away in both the ninth and 10th innings. BU’s Allan Beer worked around a hit batsman and a blown bunt coverage to start the ninth, stranding the bases full of Bears by getting Justin Paulsen on a ground ball to short and Aaron Meyer on a tapper back to the mound.
MSU would put a runner in scoring position the following frame as well, using a leadoff walk to Eierman and a Jefferson sacrifice to set the table. But Scheuermann coaxed a bouncer to second and an inning-ending liner to second with runners on the corners to send the game to the 11th.
In addition to Millas’s big night, both Paulsen and Eierman finished with two-hit games for MSU. Four different Braves recorded multi-hit nights, led by Luke Mangieri’s 3-for-5 effort.
Stong worked into the seventh for BU (10-13, 0-1 MVC), holding the Bears to three runs (two earned) on seven hits and a walk over 6 2/3 innings, before Beer logged 2 1/3 scoreless frames.
The Bears and Braves continue their series Saturday (April 1) with a 3 p.m. contest, before concluding the weekend with a 1 p.m. game Sunday.