Bears trio goes deep to complete Saluki Sweep

Missouri State erased an early deficit with a six-run rally in the fifth inning, as the Bears muscled up for a trio of two-run homers in an 8-3 victory over Southern Illinois that put the finishing touches on a three-game Missouri Valley Conference sweep of the Salukis Sunday afternoon at Hammons Field.

After being held scoreless by SIU starter Dylan Givens for four innings, the Bears scored six times en route to securing their 24th consecutive home victory in MVC play. Moments after Drew Millas tied the game at 2-2 with a two-run double, Ben Whetstone gave the Bears (33-14, 16-2 MVC) the lead for good with a towering drive onto the roof of the Bill Rowe Indoor Training Center in right-center field.

Brooks Zimmerman, who led the Bears with a 3-for-4 day at the plate, added a two-run blast later in the inning, providing starting pitcher Ty Buckner (6-4) and the Bears all the run support they would need. Jeremy Eierman contributed two hits—including a mammoth two-run shot in perhaps his final home at-bat as a Bear in the bottom of the eighth—and scored a pair of runs to help pace MSU’s offense.

The Bears’ sixth-consecutive victory in Valley play set up a conference showdown with second-place DBU next weekend in Dallas. MSU will take a one-game lead in the MVC regular-season standings into the final series of the year, which will begin with a 6:30 p.m. contest Thursday at Horner Ballpark.

Buckner wavered early in the contest, issuing three of his five walks and hitting an SIU batter over the first two frames, as the Salukis built a two-run advantage. Southern Illinois (25-26, 8-10 MVC) generated most of its offense in the second, getting a Drew Curtis base hit to start the inning, before Austin Kengott lashed a single through the left side of the Bears’ infield to bring in the first run of the game. A pair of two-out walks and a hit batsman forced home a second run, giving SIU the early 2-0 advantage.

But Buckner corrected course to retire eight of the next nine SIU hitters, and then worked his way out of a fifth-inning jam by picking off a runner to squash the Salukis’ threat.

Ryan Skalnik’s line-drive single opened the game’s critical scoring rally in the home half of the fifth. Landan Ruff’s sacrifice moved the runner into scoring position, and Eierman reached on a fielding error to set up Millas’s equalizing double to left-center. Whetstone unevened the score by unloading on Givens’s 1-1 offering for his team-leading ninth home run of the season. After a strikeout and a walk to Jack Duffy, Zimmerman made it a 6-2 contest with the third of his three straight hits—a long two-run shot off the back wall of the Bears’ bullpen in left-center.

Buckner would surrender a sixth-inning tally after a leadoff double by Nikola Vasic, a single from Connor Kopach and a one-out error. MSU’s steady bullpen would shoulder the work load from that point, as three relievers combined to hold the Salukis scoreless over the final 3.0 innings. Jake Fromson closed out his home career in style, striking out three Salukis over 1 2/3 innings, before Connor Sechler worked a scoreless ninth that included two more punchouts.

MSU received balanced run production for the second day in a row, as four Bears recorded multi-RBI performances, while Buckner earned the win with a quality start that saw the freshman allow just three runs on seven hits in his 6.0 innings.

Kengott led the Saluki’s 10-hit attack with a career-best 4-for-4 effort, while Curtis chipped in with two hits. Givens suffered the setback after giving up six runs (three earned) on seven hits in his 4.2 frames for SIU.