The Bears’ late rally not enough in first game of NCAA tournament

OXFORD, Miss. – Missouri State’s 11th NCAA Division I postseason appearance got off to a disappointing start Saturday, as Tennessee Tech scored a pair of eighth-inning runs without the benefit of a hit to hand the Bears a 6-4 setback in the opening game of the Oxford Regional at Swayze Field.

After the Bears (39-16) battled back from an early deficit by scoring four times in the top of the sixth, the Golden Eagles took advantage of back-to-back walks to start the decisive eighth-inning rally. With runners at second and third and one out, MSU reliever Jake Fromson’s throw to first following a Brennon Kaleiwahea bunt sailed wide of the bag, allowing both TTU baserunners to score.

John Ham keyed a pair of Golden Eagle rallies in the first five innings, doubling and scoring the first run of the game in the second, before singling home Chase Chambers in the fifth to make it a 4-0 game. Ham also drew the key walk to start the eighth and scored the go-ahead tally on Kaleiwahea’s bunt.

Tennessee Tech (49-9) moves on to a second-round matchup against the winner of Saturday evening’s contest pitting top seed Ole Miss against No. 4 Saint Louis.

Despite the tough-luck finish to their third NCAA postseason appearance in four years, the Bears showed resolve in picking themselves off the deck after TTU starter Travis Moths bottled up the MSU offense for 5 2/3 innings. The senior hurler faced the minimum number of hitters through five frames, then retired the first two Bears of the sixth, before Landan Ruff’s double off the left-field wall sparked MSU’s four-run rally.

Hunter Steinmetz reached base after being hit by a pitch, and Jeremy Eierman and Drew Millas coaxed walks from Moths to force home the Bears’ first run of the postseason. Next, Ben Whetstone pulled MSU to within a run on a looping single to left-center, before a wild pitch from reliever Ethan Roberts allowed Millas to slide home with the tying run.

But that would be all the offense the Bears would muster, as Roberts (5-1) bounced back to hold MSU scoreless over the final 3 1/3 innings to give the Golden Eagles a chance to mount their game-clinching rally. He would fan seven Bears and scatter three hits—including leadoff MSU singles to start both the seventh and eighth innings.

Moths was dominant early in the contest, retiring the first 10 Missouri State hitters of the game before Eierman’s one-out single in the fourth gave the Bears their first baserunner. The right-hander struck out eight and allowed just two hits, despite permitting all four MSU runs.

Bears starter Dylan Coleman also allowed four runs, scattering seven hits and five walks, while striking out seven Tennessee Tech hitters in 6.0 innings. Sparked by Ham’s double, the second-seeded Golden Eagles got to the right-hander for a pair of second-inning runs, taking advantage of a pair of walks, an error and a wild pitch to grab the early 2-0 lead.

Chambers made it a three-run game the following frame by belting his 16th home run of the season to start the inning. The TTU first baseman was one of three Golden Eagles to score two runs in the contest.

A trio of Coleman wild pitches, two more walks and Ham’s one-out hit pushed a fourth TTU run home in the fifth, before the Bears’ offense came to life in the top half of the sixth.

Jake Lochner (1-1) shouldered the loss after issuing both eighth-inning walks.

Next, the Bears will face the loser of the Ole Miss-Saint Louis game in an elimination contest, set for a Noon (CT) first pitch Sunday (June 3).