Missouri State and its seven seniors closed out the regular season in style Saturday at Hammons Field, scoring four times in the first inning en route to a 5-2 victory over Illinois State that completed a three-game sweep of the Redbirds.
With their first Valley series win of the year, the Bears (34-19, 7-13 MVC) finished the regular season on a five-game win streak and locked up the No. 7 seed in next week’s MVC Baseball Championship in Terre Haute, where MSU will take on the No. 2 seed and host Indiana State at 6:30 p.m. (CDT) Wednesday (May 25).
Blake Graham powered the MSU offense, going 3-for-3 to match a season high for hits in a game, including an RBI single in the game’s key rally. Seniors Matt Dezort and Eduardo Castro also figured prominently in the first-inning outburst, with each recording a hit and scoring to help the Bears establish a commanding early lead. Graham would also start a sixth-inning threat that would see the Bears add a key insurance run when Dezort drove him home with a two-out single.
After racking up a season-high 18 hits in Friday night’s 17-5 victory, the Bears picked up right where they left off, touching up ISU starter Jacob Hendren (3-8) for four runs on six hits in the first inning. Hunter Steinmetz led off the inning with an opposite-field single, before Dezort lined a base hit to right and Jake Burger doubled home the game’s first run.
Next, Jeremy Eierman continued his torrid stretch of run production with an RBI grounder to third, giving the freshman 12 runs batted-in in MSU’s four games this week. Following a strikeout and a Burger steal of third, Castro kicked off a string of three consecutive two-out singles for the Bears. The senior catcher’s liner to right-center plated Burger with the third run of the rally, before hits by Aaron Meyer and Graham made it a 4-0 game.
Bears starting pitcher Jake Fromson was able to work his way out of trouble in the early stages of the contest to preserve the MSU lead. After singles by Daniel Dwyer and Owen Miller started the game, Fromson got Joe Kelch to chop a comebacker that the junior turned into a double play after Dwyer attempted to score all the way from second on an overthrow at first.
Fromson allowed a pair of Redbird baserunners in both the second and third frames as well, but the sophomore induced induced inning-ending ground balls in each instance to maintain the four-run cushion.
ISU finally broke through in the fourth thanks to back-to-back hits by Sean Beesley and Ryan Hutchinson. Fromson fanned Jared Hendren for the second out of the inning, but a single from Dwyer – his third of the afternoon – put the Redbirds on the board.
A leadoff home run by Jean Ramirez on Fromson’s first offering of the sixth cut the ISU deficit to two runs, and Ryan Hutchinson’s third hit of the game brought the tying run to the plate. But senior reliever Sam Perez finished off his home career in style, striking out Dwyer for the final out of the sixth, before holding ISU scoreless through the seventh and eighth frames.
Making his school-record 33rd appearance of the season, Perez added to his MVC-leading strikeout total by fanning three of the first five Redbirds he faced. He then wiggled out of an eighth-inning jam by coaxing a rally-killing ground ball to shortstop to strand runners on the corners.
Closer Bryan Young put the exclamation point on the victory and the Bears’ fourth-straight win in MVC play by working around a walk and a two-out single in the ninth to wrap up MSU’s Hammons Field-record 22nd home win of the season.
Dezort capped his home career with a 2-for-4 day, while both Steimetz and Meyer chipped in with two-hit efforts as well.
Fromson (6-1) secured his sixth victory as a Bear, allowing just two hits while striking out six over his 5 2/3 innings.
The 2016 MVC Baseball Championship will be contested Wednesday (May 25) through Saturday (May 28) at Bob Warn Field, with the winner earning the Valley’s automatic berth in the 2016 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship.