Missouri State scored 14 unanswered runs to overcome an early four-run deficit en route to a 14-4 victory over Indiana State that allowed the Bears to match a Missouri Valley Conference record with their 19th consecutive regular-season league win Friday evening at Hammons Field.
The Bears (34-14, 15-0 MVC) extended their best-ever conference start thanks to another big night from their offense, including a critical six-run outburst in the bottom of the third inning that turned a 4-0 ISU lead into a 6-4 MSU advantage. Jake Burger drove in three runs, two of which came on his third-inning round-tripper that put MSU on top for good, becoming just the second Bear (Jason Hart, 1997-98) in the 54-year history of the program to reach the 20-home run plateau in back-to-back seasons.
MSU, which has not dropped a league game since a May 14, 2016 setback at DBU, matched Wichita State’s Valley-best win streak of 19-straight wins from May 8, 1981 to April 25, 1982. The Bears’ 15-0 MVC start is also within one victory of equaling the Shockers’16-0 start in 1998 as the best in the history of the conference.
With the win, the Bears also moved to within one victory of clinching their fifth MVC regular-season title.
The Sycamores (24-21, 10-6 MVC) built their early 4-0 lead thanks to two-run rallies in the first and third innings. Dane Tofteland’s one-out infield single sparked ISU’s offense in the first, before a walk to Dane Giesler and a Tony Rosselli hot shot up the middle loaded the bases. Clay Dungan then drove a double to deep right, chasing home two to put the visitors in front, 2-0.
MSU starting pitcher Jordan Knutson avoided further damage in the inning by fanning Kyle Moore for the first of his six strikeouts and retiring Cody Gardner on a pop up to second to end the threat.
ISU would strike again two innings later, however, as Tofteland’s second hit of the night—a leadoff double to left-center—put the Sycamore offense in motion once again. Rosselli delivered another single with one out to drive in the runner from third, before Dungan made it a four-run bulge with a run-scoring single to left.
But the Bears responded in a big way in their half of the third, getting back-to-back walks by Alex Jefferson and John Privitera to set up the game’s key rally. They also benefited from a Sycamore miscue, as an errant throw on a Hunter Steinmetz ground ball to short brought in both baserunners to slice the margin in half. Justin Paulsen plated a third run with his second hit of the game, before Burger drove a 2-2 pitch from Will Kincanon into the Bears’ bullpen in left field to put MSU on top to stay.
MSU capped its big inning with another run courtesy of a hit batsman, a Blake Graham single and Jack Duffy’s sacrifice fly to left. The Bears hiked their lead to 8-4 in the fourth, as Privitera helped spark another scoring chance with a leadoff single and one of the Bears’ season-high six steals in the game. Burger came through with a two-out, RBI single to right, before Jeremy Eierman chased him all the way home from first with a double into the right-center field gap.
Given the lead, Knutson (6-2) settled into a groove to keep the Sycamores off the scoreboard over his final three frames, retiring 11 of the final 15 batters he faced. The senior left-hander struck out six and walked three over his 6.0 innings, before Jake Fromson turned out the lights with two perfect innings of relief.
The Bears put the game away with six more tallies over their final three turns at bat, scoring on another two-out double in the sixth by Graham. MSU took advantage of a walk, two hit batsmen and two wild pitches to push home three runs in the seventh, then closed out the victory with two runs in the eighth after walks to Drew Millas and Jefferson came home to roost.
In addition to Burger’s big game, Paulsen finished 2-for-3 with a pair of walks, an RBI and three runs scored, while Jefferson and Privitera combined to reach base safely in eight of their 10 combined plate appearances out of the No. 8 and No. 9 spots in the Bears’ batting order. Eierman and Graham also logged two-hit nights, and Stienmetz drove home a pair of runs and scored two more.
Dungan (2-for-4) led ISU with three RBIs, and both Tofteland and Rosselli added two-hit games as well.
The Bears and Sycamores continue their three-game set with a 2 p.m. contest Saturday.