Clutch performances from veterans and rookies alike keyed Missouri State's 6-2 victory over Bradley Sunday at Hammons Field, as the Bears built an early lead and never looked back in securing a three-game Missouri Valley Conference series sweep of the Braves. Freshman Tate Matheny led MSU with three hits, while seniors Travis McComack and Koby Peebles came through with key offensive efforts to help freshman pitcher Andy Cheray earn his first collegiate victory.
Cheray (1-2) struck out a career-best six hitters and walked just one while allowing two runs on five hits over his 5 2/3-inning stint. The left-hander retired 10 straight Braves at one point en route to registering the 12th pitching victory for a Missouri State freshman this season. The victory for Cheray also marked the 12th consecutive win for the Bears in which a freshman has either logged a pitching victory or driven in the game-winning run.
Not to be outdone by their rookie teammates, McComack (2-for-4) came through with a pair of two-out, RBI-singles, while Peebles doubled home a run in the Bears' two-run third inning and scored two more after drawing walks to start MSU scoring threats in the second and fifth frames.
Just as it did in Saturday's 12-2 win, Missouri State jumped on top of Bradley early then rode a strong performance from its starting pitcher to take control of the contest. The Bears plated the first run of the afternoon in the bottom of the second on McComack's first two-out single following a lead-off walk to Peebles. MSU stretched the margin to 3-0 the following inning, as Matheny's first hit of the day - a one-out single to right-center - started a string of four straight MSU hitters reaching base safely. BU starter John Nasshan beaned Keenen Maddox on the next pitch, and Luke Voit singled through the left side of the Braves infield to drive home Matheny. Peebles then lined a 3-1 offering just inside the first-base bag and down the right-field line for a run-scoring double and a three-run Bears lead.
MSU (24-11, 9-3 MVC) appeared poised to break the game wide open with a pair of runners in scoring position and just one out, but Nasshan recovered to get Spencer Johnson on a pop-up to short and Dylan Becker on a grounder to third to avoid further damage. The Bears left two more runners on base in the fourth and would strand eight men altogether - seven in scoring position - from the third through the sixth innings.
After Bradley (12-22, 1-11 MVC) got on the board via a two-out, RBI-single from Tyler Leffler in the fourth, the Bears added to their advantage with two more runs in the fifth to make it a 5-1 contest. Peebles played the role of offensive catalyst once again, coaxing his second base-on-balls from Nasshan, who then hit Johnson with his very next pitch to set the stage for back-to-back run-scoring singles by Becker and McComack.
Once again Bradley avoided a back-breaking rally, however, as reliever Cameron Roegner got ground balls off the bats of Joey Hawkins and Eric Cheray to strand two more runners. The theme continued in the sixth, as MSU got singles from Matheny and Maddox to start the inning, but left both baserunners in scoring position thanks to a fly out by Voit and grounders from Peebles and Johnson.
The Bears' inefficiency to move baserunners would not come back to haunt them in the end due to the work of Cheray and three Missouri State relievers. After BU mounted its two-out rally in the fourth to score its first run, the left-hander sat down four straight hitters before Mike Tauchman led off the sixth with a double off the left-field wall. Leffler would come through with another two-out single to score Tauchman and cut the MSU lead to 5-2, but senior reliever Erik Shannahan struck out Curtiss Bunch for the third out, leaving a pair of Braves in scoring position.
Another senior, Grant Gordon, followed Shannahan with 1 2/3 perfect innings, and Tyler Burgess worked a scoreless ninth to wrap up the victory in a non-save situation after the Bears tacked on an unearned run in the bottom of the eighth to extend their lead to four runs.
For the third straight game in the series, Tauchman tormented the Bears with a two-hit performance, while Leffler's two RBI-singles provided the only offense for the Braves. BU, which entered the weekend as the MVC's top hitting club with a .304 team average, finished the series with just six total runs scored (four earned), as MSU pitchers held the Braves to a .219 batting average while posting a 1.38 earned run average in the three games.
Up next, the Bears embark on a six-game road trip, beginning with a 6:30 p.m. non-conference game Tuesday (April 23) against Saint Louis at the Billiken Sports Center.