Bears hold off Bradley to open series

PEORIA, Ill. – Missouri State made five early runs stand against the league’s hottest club, as the Bears extended their Missouri Valley Conference win streak to seven straight games with a 5-4 victory over Bradley Friday evening at Dozer Park.

Logan Geha‘s first career triple keyed a big second inning, before Dylan Coleman and a pair of relievers held the Braves (25-10, 7-3 MVC) at bay long enough to halt BU’s eight-game win streak. Coleman (7-2) fanned nine batters to move past former Bear Matt Hall into third place on MSU’s career strikeout list, limiting the Valley’s top offense to four runs on six hits over 7.0 innings.

Connor Sechler picked up where Coleman left off, working a perfect eighth inning, before issuing a walk and registering a critical strikeout in the ninth. From there, Jake Lochner slammed the door with back-to-back strikeouts to secure his first career save and the Bears’ 27th MVC victory in their last 29 league games.

Drew Millas led the MSU offense with a three-hit effort, including a clutch two-out, RBI single in the fourth inning, while Geha’s three RBIs represented a career best for the sophomore catcher.

Despite sweating out the close finish, the Bears (26-12, 9-1 MVC) appeared poised to break the game wide open with their four-run second inning that was highlighted by Geha’s opposite-field three-bagger. Whetstone’s leadoff double to right spark the scoring chance, before BU starter Cole Cook (4-4) plunked Landan Ruff, and Jack Duffy bunted for a hit to set up Geha’s liner off the right-field wall that cleared the bases for a 3-0 MSU lead.

After Cook caught Hunter Steinmetz looking for the second out, Jeremy Eierman came through with the first of two clutch two-out hits that produced runs for the Bears. The junior shortstop lined the first pitch he saw into left-center to bring in Geha and stretch the MSU advantage to four runs.

Coleman worked out of a two-on, two-out jam in the first, then stranded another BU baserunner in the second after Dan Bolt recorded the first hit of the night for the Braves.

The junior right-hander appeared to be headed for an easy third frame, before Andrew Ivelia unloaded on a two-out, 2-0 offering for his first home run of the season to slice the MSU lead to three runs.

Following Millas’s two-out single that brought in Geha to re-establish MSU’s four-run lead in the top half of the fourth, BU cut deeper into the Bears’ cushion in the home half. Brendan Dougherty’s leadoff double set the tone, before Andy Shadid’s sharp chopper to short handcuffed Eierman for an infield single. A highlight-reel catch of a Bolt liner to center by Steinmetz resulted in the first out, but a wind-blown double off the bat of Eli Rawlinson chased home a run and put two runners in scoring position. Keaton Rice’s sacrifice line drive to right brought in another run, before Coleman retired Luke Shadid on a ground ball to third to end the inning.

BU took advantage of a pair of two-out walks and a Rice single to pull to within one run in the sixth. Coleman issued a walk to Shadid to load the bases, but fanned Luke Mangieri to squash the threat.

MSU squandered several opportunities to add to its lead in the middle innings, stranding two runners in four consecutive innings. But Coleman would work out of a seventh-inning jam and combined with Sechler and Lochner to strike out seven of the final 10 BU hitters of the contest to run the Bears record in one-run games to 10-1 on the season.

In addition to big nights from Millas and Geha at the plate, the Bears received two-hit performances from both Whetstone and Duffy, while Ruff reached base in three of his five plate appearances.

Up next, the Bears and Braves continue their series with game two Saturday (April 28) at 2 p.m.