Bears rally to win second straight at MVC Tourney

DALLAS – Ben Whetstone’s one-out double in the bottom of the eighth inning snapped a 2-2 deadlock with Indiana State, as Missouri State improved to 2-0 at the Missouri Valley Conference Championship with a 4-2 win over the Sycamores Thursday evening at Horner Ballpark.

After the Bears manufactured a two-out tally to tie the score in the seventh, Whetstone lined a Tyler Grauer offering into the right-field corner to bring in both John Privitera and Jeremy Eierman to put the Bears (37-15) in front to stay. Connor Sechler surrendered a pair of singles in the ninth, but rebounded to strike out C.J. Huntley for the second out, then retired Dane Giesler on a roller to first to lock up the victory and his eighth save of the season.

Sechler’s effort capped 3 1/3 scoreless innings from the MSU bullpen, after Nate Witherspoon and Jake Fromson (3-2) combined to hold the Sycamores (30-23) in check.

The victory marked the Bears’ 18th come-from-behind win this spring and their 77th over the last four seasons. It also sets up a 4 p.m., Bracket A final Friday (May 25), pitting the top-seeded Bears against the winner of an elimination game between Indiana State and Southern Illinois, set for 9 a.m., Friday.

MSU’s comeback was necessary after the Sycamores plated a pair of runs in the fourth inning against Bears starter Ty Buckner to negate an early 1-0 deficit. After hitting Giesler and walking Romero Harris to start the inning, a fielder’s choice loaded the bases with nobody out for ISU. Jake Means bounced in to a 6-4-3 double play to bring in the tying run, and Luke Fegen gave the Sycamores the 2-1 lead with a double to center.

Buckner would hold ISU scoreless from there, before another two-out rally by ISU in the sixth ended the freshman All-MVC right-hander’s night. With runners on the corners and two out, Witherspoon needed just one pitch to retire Max Wright on an inning-ending come-backer, then set down the top three hitters in the Sycamore lineup in order in the seventh.

The Bears mounted their equalizing rally after the first two batters of the home half of the seventh were retired by Sycamore starter Tristan Weaver (3-5). Brooks Zimmerman—who earlier put MSU on top with his sixth home run of the season—came through with another key hit, belting a double to left to give MSU its first hit since his solo shot in the second. A critical wild pitch moved the runner to third, and Jack Duffy made ISU pay by beating out a chopper to first with a head-first slide just ahead of the tag, allowing Zimmerman to score the tying run.

Next, a walk to Privitera and an Eierman infield single started the decisive rally for MSU in the eighth. Drew Millas skied out to left for the first out, but Whetstone lined the first pitch he saw from Grauer into right, allowing Privitera to score easily, before an alert Eierman raced home after an attempt to throw out the MSU baserunner at second.

Zimmerman’s 2-for-4 night led the Bears, while Whetstone finished with a pair of hits as well. Buckner allowed just two runs on four hits in his 5.2 innings, striking out two and walking two Sycamores in a no-decision.

Weaver suffered the hard-luck setback for ISU after holding the Bears to just three hits over the first six innings. In all, the lefty allowed three runs on five hits and struck out five Bears in seven-plus innings.