SPRINGFIELD – Memphis held off a ninth-inning Missouri State rally to preserve a one-run lead for the second-consecutive day to pull out a series-clinching 5-4 victory over the Bears Sunday afternoon at Hammons Field.
The Tigers (12-7) erased two separate two-run deficits, then plated the deciding run on Tyler Webb’s first career home run in the top of the seventh inning.
Colton Hathcock picked up his second save in as many days, once again pitching out of a ninth-inning jam to hold a slim lead. The Bears (13-6) saw two different baserunners cut down at the plate, including an inning-ending play in the eighth where Aaron Meyer was called out attempting to score the tying run on a Drew Millas double to left-center field.
The Bears forged a two-out rally in the ninth as well, using a Tiger fielding error and walks to Hunter Steinmetz and Jake Burger to load the bases. But Hathcock induced a game-ending liner to short off the bat of Jeremy Eierman to secure his seventh save and hand the Bears their third-consecutive one-run setback.
Missouri State received a three-hit game from Alex Jefferson for the second day in a row, while Steinmetz went 2-for-4 and Logan Geha added a career-best two hits.
After falling behind early in each of their first two games against the Tigers, the Bears turned the tables in game three to take a 1-0 lead in the first. Steinmetz started the rally with a line-drive single to right-center, before Jefferson followed suit with his fifth hit of the series. A Memphis error on Jefferson’s liner to center allowed both runners to move into scoring position, and Justin Paulsen’s one-out single brought home Steinmetz with the game’s first run.
The Bears tacked on another run in the third, using a leadoff walk to Burger, a Memphis throwing error and a two-out wild pitch to bring the runner home for a 2-0 lead.
MSU appeared to be poised to add to the margin in the fourth, as Geha singled for the second time, then swiped second to set up another scoring chance. With two out, Jefferson lined a base hit to right, bringing Geha around third in an attempt to score the third MSU run of the day. The relay throw arrived ahead of the runner, who was called out by home plate umpire Chad Rogers, despite a full road block of the plate from UM catcher Jason Santana before, during and after his receipt of the throw from first baseman Trent Turner.
Given new-found momentum courtesy of the inning-ending call that squashed the Bears’ rally, the Tigers scored twice to even the score in the fifth. A one-out single, followed by a run-scoring double by No. 9 hitter Carlos Williams cut the Bears’ lead in half, and a Missouri State fielding miscue allowed the equalizing run to come home.
The two clubs would trade two-run home runs in their next turns at bat, as Eierman broke out of an eight-game homerless streak with his seventh long ball of the season to hand the Bears a 4-2 lead.
But a rare hiccup from the reliable Missouri State bullpen would swing the momentum back in the Tigers’ direction. With a man on and one out in the sixth, Alec Trela took MSU reliever Jake Fromson deep to left for the first of the Tigers’ two key homers late in the contest.
One inning later, Webb provided the deciding blow, launching the go-ahead round-tripper off Fromson (2-1), who had allowed just two previous home runs in his 33 career appearances for the Bears entering play Sunday.
Connor Alexander (3-1) earned the win after allowing four runs (three earned) on 10 hits, while striking out seven in 7.0 innings.
Trela finished the series 7-for-13 (.538) at the plate led the UM charge with his third homer of the year, while Santana enjoyed a 3-for-4 day for the Tigers.
Up next, the Bears conclude their four-game home stand with a 6:35 p.m. non-conference contest Tuesday (March 21) against New Orleans.