Missouri State scored in each of the first three innings of the deciding game of its critical Missouri Valley Conference series with DBU, then broke the game wide open with a four-run seventh en route to a 10-4 victory that secured an outright Valley regular-season title and the top seed at next week’s MVC Championship.
Matt Brown homered twice and drove in three of MSU’s first six runs, and Hunter Steinmetz added a home run and a crucial two-run single as part of the Bears’ seventh-inning rally. The victory locked up the Bears’ second consecutive regular-season MVC championship and capped a two-year stretch that saw MSU win 36 of its 40 league contests.
MSU (35-15, 18-3 MVC) led from the outset, scoring in each of the first three innings to build the first of two early three-run leads. The Bears touched up DBU starter Luke Eldred (5-3) for three straight singles to open the game, with Drew Millas’s base hit to center bringing in John Privitera for the game’s first run. After a strikeout for the first out, Jack Duffy came through with an opposite-field single to plate another run for a 2-0 Bears lead.
The Bears struck for three more runs on a pair of long balls over the ensuing two innings. In the second, Steinmetz drilled the first pitch he saw from Eldred for solo blast to right-center, before MSU hiked its lead to 5-2 in the third on the first of Brown’s two home runs—a two-run shot to left-center—after Millas coaxed a leadoff walk.
But the Patriots (36-17, 16-4 MVC) broke out their bats early as well, engineering a pair of two-out rallies in the first three innings to keep the game within reach. Matt Duce’s double to left-center produced a run in the home half of the first, and Luke Bandy’s one-out home run in the second pulled DBU to within a run.
Another two-out rally drew the home club closer in the bottom of the third, as walks to Duce and Tim Millard set up Kody Funderburk’s RBI single to right. Patriots reliever MacGregor Hines kept the Bears scoreless in back-to-back innings, but Brown’s third home run of the weekend started the sixth and handed MSU a 6-3 edge.
After Devlin Granberg homered with two out in the sixth to end Ty Buckner’s day, the MSU offense answered with its biggest inning of the series. With one out, Duffy laced a soft liner to right-center for a base hit, before back-to-back walks to Brown and Brooks Zimmerman loaded the bases. Steinmetz delivered his second run-producing hit of the game, lining a two-run single to right to double the MSU lead. Next, consecutive bunt singles by Landan Ruff and Privitera brought in a third run, and Jordan Fitzpatrick capped the rally with a sacrifice fly to left.
The MSU bullpen made sure the lead stood, as Jake Lochner, Jake Fromson and Connor Sechler combined to hold DBU scoreless on two hits over the final 3 1/3 frames. Buckner (7-4) picked up the win, scattering four runs on five hits over 5 2/3 innings.
Duffy matched a career high with three hits in five at-bats, while Brown went 2-for-4 with three runs scored and Steinmetz scored twice and drove home three runs in the victory.
Missouri State will enter the 2018 MVC Baseball Championship as the No. 1 seed and will open tournament play Wednesday (May 23) with a 12:30 p.m. game against No. 8 Evansville at Horner Ballpark.