Missouri State pounded out a season-high 17 hits and rode 8.0 strong innings from Jon Harris to a 14-1 victory over Canisius in its opening game of the NCAA Springfield Regional Saturday afternoon. The Bears (46-10) erased an early deficit thanks to a five-RBI performance from Tate Matheny, as 6,756 spectators–their largest home crowd in 11 years–saw MSU stretch its win streak to 17 straight games.
The victory for Missouri State pulled the Bears to within one game of the program record for wins in a season (1986), as well as within one victory of the club’s longest win streak (April 16-May 14, 1989). It also set up a winner’s bracket matchup with Iowa (40-16) Saturday evening at 8:05 p.m.
Matheny powered the MSU offense with a 3-for-4 performance that included a pair of doubles and two walks, as well as a sixth-inning grand slam as part of an eight-run rally that matched the Bears’ most-productive inning of the season. MSU, which drew six walks and four bases from hit batsmen in addition to matching its 2015 season-high of 17 hits, turned a one-run game into a 12-1 lead by scoring 10 times in the fifth and sixth innings.
Justin Paulsen, who also homered in the sixth, finished 3-for-5 with a pair of RBIs, while Matt Fultz drove in three runs and scored another with a double and two sacrifice flies.
Harris (8-1) was equally as effective on the hill for the Bears, holding the Golden Griffins (34-29) to just three hits in his eight innings. The junior recovered from a leadoff home run by Connor Panas on the game’s second pitch to limit Canisius to a pair of singles over the remainder of his effort, striking out eight along the way.
The Bears mounted threats of their own in each of the first two innings, only to see Griffins starter Devon Stewart work his way out of trouble with the help of key strikeouts in both instances. After giving up a two-out double to Matheny before a hit batsman and a walk loaded the bases, Stewart got Spencer Johnson to chase a two-strike offering to escape the home half of the first unharmed.
MSU loaded the bases again in the second thanks to the first of Blake Graham’s two singles that sparked the one-out rally. Back-to-back hit batsmen brought up Joey Hawkins, but Stewart fanned the MSU shortstop for the second out. Matheny then coaxed a walk to force home the tying run before a ground ball to short helped Stewart avoid a big inning.
Justin Paulsen’s liner to right started opened another scoring opportunity for the Bears in the third, as base hits by Jake Burger and Graham loaded the bases yet again before Matt Fultz’s sacrifice fly to center put MSU on top, 2-1.
The Bears would add to their lead with a two-run fifth highlighted by Fultz’s two-out double that narrowly eluded a diving Cyrus Senior in right-center. Dylan Becker followed with a second run-scoring hit to bring home Fultz for a 4-1 MSU advantage.
Matheny ignited the sixth-inning onslaught with his second double of the day, then scored on a base hit to left by Eric Cheray, who was thrown out attempting to stretch it into a double. Paulsen blasted a 2-1 pitch from Brandon Bielecki over the right-field wall for his eighth round-tripper of the season, before a pair of walks and a double by Jake Burger loaded the bags again. Fultz delivered another sac fly and Becker lined a single to left to score Burger to push the lead to seven runs.
Next, Hawkins coaxed a walk to set up just the third postseason grand slam in MSU history, as Matheny belted an 0-1 offering onto the left-field berm to make it a 12-1 game. The junior joined Alex Manary (May 25, 1995 vs. Long Beach State) and Tony Piazza (June 8, 2003 at Ohio State) on the short list of Bears’ to club grand slams in NCAA Championship play. He also became the first MSU player to record multiple hits in one inning since 2010.
MSU tacked on a pair of unearned runs in the eighth after a throwing error started the inning. Hawkins singled and Matheny drew a walk before Aaron Meyer’s ground ball scored a run and Paulsen plated his second baserunner with a single to center.
Harris cruised through the home stretch, retiring 11 straight Griffins at one point and allowing just three baserunners–all via walks–after the third inning. Senior Zach Merciez locked up the Bears’ 15th NCAA Division I Championship victory with a perfect ninth in his MSU single-season-record 30th appearance of the season.
Stewart (7-7) was tagged with the loss for Canisius after allowing the first four runs on seven MSU hits over his 4 2/3 innings. Mike Krisch was the lone Griffin to reach base multiple times, going 1-for-2 with a walk.