Martin, Tenn. (Missouri State Sports Information) -- Despite totaling 14 hits and a career-high 12 strikeouts from Jon Harris, Missouri State came up on the short end of a 4-3 decision to open a three-game non-conference series with UT Martin Friday evening at Skyhawk Field.
Taylor Douglas's two home runs and a pair of controversial rulings at the plate proved to be the difference, as the Skyhawks captured their sixth victory of the season. After homering in the first to stake UTM to an early 1-0 lead, the junior outfielder delivered the decisive blow with another solo shot to lead off the eighth inning.
Carter Smith picked up the victory with 2.0 shutout innings of one-hit relief over which he slowed a Missouri State attack that had pelted UTM starter Taylor Cox for 13 hits over the first six innings of the contest. John Houston followed with a 1-2-3 ninth to close out his third save of the season.
After Douglas put the home club on top with his fifth long ball of the season--a two-out blast to center--off Harris (2-4), MSU rallied to take its only lead of the game with single tallies in the second and third frames. Spencer Johnson belted doubles that led to runs in each inning, starting the Bears' second-inning rally with a one-out two-bagger to right-center before coming around to score on Joey Hawkins' two-out base hit to right. The sophomore doubled home the Bears' second run of the game in the third following back-to-back singles by Conor Smith and Patrick Drake.
MSU missed out on a potential big inning on the first of two critical calls by home plate umpire Jimmy Meeks that would play factor in the outcome of the contest. With one out, Smith drove a single to left that appeared to give Eric Cheary enough time to come around from second with the go-ahead run. But shortstop Jake Deason's relay throw to the plate was ruled to have beaten the MSU baserunner for the second out of the inning. After Johnson's double to left put the Bears in front, Matt Fultz bounced a grounder that was snared by Cox for the final out of the inning.
The pivotal moment of the contest followed in the fourth after Harris quickly dispatched the first two hitters. Deason singled, then moved to second on a failed pickoff attempt before Harris plunked Mikey Nantz with a two-strike pitch. Fletcher Johnson came through with a base hit to right, and Deason crossed home with the tying run despite a throw from Drake that appeared to arrive at the plate well ahead of the runner.
The Skyhawks then capitalized on the break with a second run-scoring single, this one from Chase Young, to take a 3-2 lead.
MSU had an answer in the fifth, getting three consecutive singles to even the score. Tate Matheny got things started with a base hit to left before Smith deposited his second hit of the night. Drake knotted the score at 3-3 with a long single off the wall in right-center, but Cox escaped the inning by rolling a 6-4-3 double play to keep it even.
From that point both pitching staffs took control, as Harris faced the minimum number of hitters over the ensuing three innings before Douglas ended his night with the deciding clout to start the eighth. Cox turned in his first 1-2-3 inning in the sixth, then handed the ball off the Smith, who wiggled his way out of jams in both the seventh and eighth innings.
The Bears, who saw six hitters record multi-hit performances, watched their best opportunity to break the deadlock slip away in the eighth after putting their first two batters on base. After Fultz took a pitch in the back, Hawkins laid down a bunt single to the right side of the infield. Dylan Becker's chopper to second resulted in the first out, putting runners at the corners in the process, but Smith fanned Alex Jefferson and induced a pop fly to center from Cheray to get out of the inning.
Johnson's two-double night paced the Bears 14-hit attack, while Drake and Hawkins both went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Jefferson, Smith and Cheray each added two hits in five at-bats, and Matheny extended his hit streak to 10 games with his fifth-inning single.
Harris suffered the setback for MSU, despite his career-best 12 punchouts while walking none. The right-hander allowed all four UTM runs on eight hits before Jake Powers fanned the side in the eighth to run the Bears' strikeout total to a season-high 15.
The Bears (18-20) and Skyhawks (6-33) continue their series Saturday (April 26) with a 3 p.m. contest, before wrapping up the weekend with a 1 p.m. tilt Sunday.
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