SPRINGFIELD – Despite mounting a late surge that nearly erased a five-run, eighth-inning deficit, Missouri State dropped a 6-5 decision to Memphis Saturday afternoon at Hammons Field. The Tigers (11-7) used a four-run, first-inning rally and some clutch work from their bullpen to outlast the Bears (13-5) and even the two clubs’ series at a game apiece.
Colton Hathcock worked his way out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam in the bottom of the ninth to hold the one-run cushion and hand the Tigers the victory. After Hunter Steinmetz walked to start the inning, Alex Jefferson’s third hit of the game—a double off the right-center field wall—cut the Bears’ deficit in half, before back-to-back walks to Jake Burger and Jeremy Eierman loaded the bases.
But Hathcock blew third strikes past Justin Paulsen and John Privitera, then retired Aaron Meyer on a fly ball to left to strand the potential tying and go-ahead runners and lock up his sixth save of the season.
The close call spoiled a late charge by Missouri State that saw the Bears score three times in the eighth after the Tigers carried a 6-1 advantage into the home half of the inning. Jefferson and Burger delivered singles to start the rally, before Paulsen and Drew Millas plated runs with sacrifice flies and Meyer forced home another by drawing a walk with the bases loaded.
Jack Duffy’s two-out, infield single appeared to keep the scoring threat alive and would have loaded the bases with the top of the order due up. But UM second baseman Brandon Grudzielanek alertly threw behind an MSU runner at third and Zach Schrithenthal applied the tag for a critical inning-ending putout that preserved a two-run Tiger lead.
The victory for Memphis stopped a string of four consecutive losses in its series with the Bears, and handed MSU just its fifth non-conference setback in its last 33 home games. The Tigers built their five-run lead thanks to a four-run outburst in the first, then added single tallies in the third and seventh innings as part of a Bear opponent season-high 13-hit barrage.
Memphis set the tone for the afternoon with a big first inning, highlighted by three different two-out, run-producing hits. Schrithenthal chopped the first pitch of the game just past Paulsen at first for a base hit, before Bears starter Dylan Coleman recovered to retire Tyler Webb on a strikeout and Grudzielanek on a bouncer to first.
But Andy Bowman lined Coleman’s first offering into center to bring in Schrithenthal with the game’s first run, and Chris Carrier coaxed a walk to keep the inning alive. Next, Trent Turner delivered a run-scoring single to center, and Alec Trela doubled home two more to make it a 4-0 game.
The Bears struck back with a two-out, solo shot from Burger for his ninth homer of the season in the home half of the first, but would muster little more until the fifth, when Millas’s single and a double from Steinmetz put two runners in scoring position with one out. Another key defensive play by Schrithenthal thwarted the threat, however, as the UM third baseman leaped to snare a liner off the bat of Jefferson, then stepped on third to double up Millas and end the inning.
Tigers left-hander Drew Crosby (3-0) held the Bears in check throughout his 6.0 innings, allowing just the Burger home run while scattering seven hits and striking out four.
Memphis added to its lead on Turner’s RBI triple in the third, capitalizing on Bowman’s leadoff single to stretch its lead to 5-1. UM chased Coleman (2-1) after just three innings, with the right-hander yielding five runs on six hits and four walks.
The MSU bullpen provided another standout effort for the Bears, combining to hold the Tigers to just one run on seven hits over the final 6.0 innings. Freshman Nate Witherspoon struck out three Tigers in three scoreless frames, and fellow left-hander Jake Lochner fanned four of the five batters he faced in a perfect inning-and-two-third outing.
The Tigers added what would prove to be the deciding run in the seventh, courtesy of a one-out walk to Turner and back-to-back base hits by Trela and Colton Neel.
Trela proved to be a thorn in the Bears’ side for the second straight game, going 4-for-5 with a pair of RBIs after logging two hits in Friday’s series opener. Bowman also came through with a big day, finishing 3-for-5 with an RBI and two runs scored.
Jefferson matched a career high for hits with his 3-for-5 effort, while Burger and Duffy each added two-hit games for MSU.
The two clubs will face off in the rubber match of the series Sunday (March 19) at 1:05 p.m.