A first-inning grand slam by Collin Braithwaite and the pitching of freshman left-hander Matt Walker was all Illinois State would need to stop Missouri State’s 22-game Missouri Valley Conference win streak with an 8-4 decision over the Bears Friday afternoon at Duffy Bass Field.
Braithwaite, who drove in five runs on the day, launched a two-out homer on a 2-2 pitch from Dylan Coleman in the bottom of the first, giving Walker and the Redbirds (13-38, 2-18 MVC) all the offense they would need. Walker (1-2) stifled the Missouri State offense for 6.0 shutout innings, allowing just one hit and a pair of walks to earn his first career victory.
MSU, which managed just five hits for the game, would not break into the scoring column until the eighth inning when Hunter Steinmetz’s three-run homer cut a six-run deficit in half. After an error and a walk brought the potential tying run to the plate, Jeremy Eierman’s fly to deep left came within a few feet of bringing the Bears all the way back.
Redbird reliever Trevor Cross retired Blake Graham to end the threat, and ISU tacked on two key insurance runs in the bottom of the inning to seal the outcome. The loss gave the MVC champion Bears (37-15, 18-1 MVC) their first setback of the Valley season and their first regular-season conference defeat since a May 14, 2016 decision at DBU.
The game’s tipping point arrived early, as Coleman (7-3) worked himself into a first-inning jam by issuing a pair of walks that sandwiched an Owen Miller single to load the bases. The sophomore right-hander recovered to strike out Noah Sadler and Joe Butler, but Braithwaite unloaded on a two-strike offering, driving his fifth home run of the season over the left-field wall for an early 4-0 Redbird lead.
Walker dispatched nine of the first 10 Bears he faced, permitting just a two-out walk to Alex Jefferson in the second, before Justin Paulsen’s double to start the fourth handed MSU its first hit. But Paulsen was tagged out attempting to advance to third on a Jake Burger grounder to shortstop and Eierman bounced into an inning-ending double play to end the inning.
ISU added to its lead with single tallies in the fifth and sixth innings after leadoff walks started each rally. Derek Parola plated the fifth Redbird run of the day with a sacrifice fly to bring in Miller, before John Rave’s RBI double the following inning made it a 6-0 game.
The Bears mounted their biggest threat against ISU reliever Jeff Lindgren, who beaned Logan Geha with one out in the eighth, before the first of John Privitera’s two hits set up Steinmetz’s fourth homer of the season. Privitera would drive in a run with a two-out single in the ninth but Cross retired Steinmetz for the final out of the game, as Bryce Grimm put an exclamation point on the victory with a diving grab in left field.
Privitera led the Bears’ offense with a 2-for-4 day, while Steinmetz’s three RBIs matched a career high. Coleman suffered his third defeat of the season after surrendering five runs on two hits and four walks in 5.0 innings.
After splitting the first two games of the series, the Bears and Redbirds will square off again Saturday (May 20) in the rubber match, which is set for a 1 p.m. first pitch.