Brown’s walk-off sac fly gives Bears series win over ASU

Matt Brown‘s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning brought home Jack Duffy with the game-winning run, as Missouri State rallied from a late deficit to pull out a series-clinching 5-4 victory over Arkansas State Sunday afternoon at Hammons Field.

After Ben Whetstone‘s third home run of the series wiped out a 4-3 ASU lead in the bottom of the eighth, Duffy absorbed a Payton Lannon (0-1) offering on a 3-2 pitch to start the Bears’ critical rally the following inning. Duffy moved to second on an errant pickoff attempt and advanced to third on a wild pitch, before Brown drove a 3-0 pitch to center to give the MSU baserunner just enough time to slide home with the deciding run.

Whetsone, who homered twice in Friday’s 12-4 series-opening victory, snapped the Bears (8-5) out of an offensive funk with his fourth long ball of the season that evened the score at 4-4. Prior to that, ASU’s tandem of starter Peyton Culbertson and reliever Bo Ritter combined to retire 11 MSU hitters in succession. Whetstone climbed all over Ritter’s 2-0 offering, launching a long drive that just cleared the wall in right to not only give the Bears new life, but also continue a streak in which the sophomore has reached base safely via a hit, walk or hit by pitch in all 13 of Missouri State’s contests this season.

ASU (7-5) threatened in the top of the ninth, loading the bases without the benefit of a hit. After fanning a career-best six hitters over his first 2 2/3 innings of relief, Connor Sechler started the ninth by hitting two of the first three Red Wolves he faced, and Davis Schwab issued a walk to the only batter he faced to load the sacks with just one out. But, as a precursor of things to follow, Brown came through with a defensive gem to thwart the threat. The senior made a diving grab of a line drive off the bat of Jaylon Deshazier, then fired to second to double up Brown for the final out of the inning.

The early stages of the contest saw the two clubs trade single tallies through the first four frames, with MSU forging one-run leads on three separate occasions before the Red Wolves grabbed their first lead on Hawkins’s two-out, two-run triple in the sixth.

MSU converted a leadoff double from John Privitera into a first-inning run, before ASU’s Kyle MacDonald knotted things up in the second with a mammoth home run to right-center. Jeremy Eierman extended his hit streak to six games with a third-inning single, then came home on a two-out error to put the Bears back on top.

The visitors would respond again, this time using a hit batsman, a Cullen Ray single and a pair of wild pitches from Austin Knight to plate their second run of the day in the fourth. A bunt single by Logan Geha sparked a Bears rally in the home half of the inning, however. Duffy made it a 3-2 game with his two-bagger that sailed over Logan Andersen’s head in right to chase Geha all the way home from first.

Knight turned in 5 1/3 innings in his third start of the season, allowing four runs on seven hits while walking two and striking out a pair of hitters. After yielding the go-ahead triple to Hawkins, Sechler settled into a groove to strike out five consecutive ASU batters to keep the Bears within striking distance. Overall, the freshman allowed two hits in his 3.0 scoreless innings, and Jake Fromson (1-0) recorded the final two outs of the ninth on Deshazier’s liner to earn his first victory of the season.

ASU starter Peyton Culbertson held the Bears to three runs (two earned) on four hits over his 5.0 innings, before Ritter logged a dominant three-inning stretch in which he surrendered only the Whetstone home run, while retiring each of the other nine MSU hitters he faced. Ray led the Red Wolves’ nine-hit attack with a 3-for-4 day at the plate, while Andrew Leggo added two hits and scored a pair of runs for ASU.

Up next, the Bears conclude their five-game home stand Tuesday (March 13) with a 3 p.m. non-conference tilt against Oral Roberts, before traveling to Kansas City to take on Iowa Wednesday (4 p.m.) at the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy.