Missouri State kicked off its 50th season of baseball in grand style Friday afternoon with a gutsy 3-2 victory over host Texas State in 11 innings at the CenturyLink Bobcat Invitational. Dylan Becker's one-out single to center drove in Eric Cheray with the go-ahead run, and Tyler Burgess closed out the win with his third scoreless inning of relief.
MSU overcame a number of obstacles to pull out the victory and snap a four-game, opening-day losing streak, most notably a 15-strikeout effort from the Texas State pitching staff, including 11 by starter Kyle Finnegan. Thanks in part to an uncharacteristic four-error day by the Bears' defense, the Bobcats rallied to erase a 2-0 deficit in the seventh inning, spoiling a solid outing from MSU starter Nick Petree.
A preseason All-America honoree, Petree allowed just two hits and three walks while striking out five hitters over five scoreless innings.
Finnegan was equally as impressive for Texas State, finishing just one punchout short of his career high with 11 K's over 6.0 innings while giving up two runs on three hits.
The Bears decisive 11th-inning rally started with Cheray drawing a walk after battling back from a 1-2 hole with a quality eight-pitch at-bat against Hunter Lemke (0-1). Tate Matheny moved Cheray to second with a sacrifice bunt, before Becker brought him home with a solid single up the middle.
Burgess (1-0), who retired the final seven hitters of the game, put the finishing touches on the win in the bottom half of the 11th, recording the final out himself on a grounder back to the mound.
Quality pitching was the name of the game throughout the day, as both staffs worked in and out of trouble in a nip-and-tuck affair. The starting pitchers set the tone early, as Finnegan and Petree each set down the opposition in order in the first. Finnegan got Becker and Travis McComack swinging, before retiring Keenen Maddox on a grounder to short. Petree followed suit, coaxing fly balls off the bats of Morgan Mickan and Mattlage, then getting Brooks Orton looking to end the first.
MSU squandered a promising offensive opportunity in the second after Luke Voit singled up the middle to lead off the frame, Koby Peebles drew a walk and Conor Smith laid down a sacrifice bunt to move both runners into scoring position with one out. But Finnegan blew a third strike by Trey Massenberg and thwarted a squeeze attempt by Cheray to end the threat.
Petree also stranded a pair of opposing baserunners in the home half of the second, working around a one-out Colby Targun single and a two-out walk to Cory Geisler.
The Bears dented the scoreboard first, striking for a pair of two-out runs in the top of the third. Finnegan grazed Becker with an 0-1, one-out offering to start the rally, then got McComack swinging for the second time. Becker swiped second, however, and Maddox made the Bobcats pay with a run-scoring single through the right side. Voit and Peebles each drew walks to sustain the inning, before Smith lined a 1-0 pitch into right to drive in Maddox for a 2-0 MSU advantage.
But Petree found himself in immediate trouble in the bottom half of the third after he mishandled a Cody Lovejoy bunt and issued a walk to Mickan to start the inning. Just as quickly, however, the Bears' right-hander worked his way out of the jam. After a Mattlage sacrifice pushed both runners into scoring position, Petree fanned Orton with a nasty off-speed pitch before retiring the side on an Andrew Stumph infield roller to preserved the two-run cushion.
The Bears' ace turned in two more scoreless innings before yielding to his bullpen in the sixth. An error and a walk to start the inning provided an immediate test for Grant Gordon, but once again MSU found a way out of a bind. Gordon coaxed a ground ball to short from Geisler before striking out Tyler Pearson to end the TSU rally.
The Bobcats broke through the following inning, however, taking advantage of a pair of MSU defensive miscues to knot the score. Lovejoy led things off with a bouncer to first that eluded Smith, stole second, then advanced to third on a fly ball from Mickan. Next, Mattlage sent a ground ball to first, and Smith's attempt to gun down Lovejoy at the play was in the dirt, allowing the tying run to move into scoring position. Gordon got Orton to bounce back to the mound, but Stumph came through with a two-out double to right to bring in Mattlage with the equalizing run.
Burgess entered the contest in the ninth, walking the lead-off man before settling into a groove. The sophomore lefty calmly struck out Targun to thwart a two-on, two-out threat and leave the potential winning run on third base.
Smith led the Bears' offense with a 2-for-3 day at the plate, while Peebles drew three walks in five trips to the plate.
The Bears continue play Saturday with a 5 p.m. match-up against Sam Houston State before concluding their stay in Texas with an 11 a.m. tilt versus Tulane on Sunday.
It was a tough weekend for our local teams in Blue Springs.
Both Springfield Catholic and Nixa went 0-for-2 on the weekend, forcing them to settle for fourth place in Class 3 and Class 1 respectively.
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