Posted: Wednesday, 26 March 2014 9:03PM

Branson's Perez leads Bears to victory





SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Missouri State rebounded from an early 3-0 deficit with a four-run second-inning rally, then rode the right arm of Sam Perez to a 5-4 decision over Arkansas State Wednesday evening at Hammons Field. Perez worked a career-best 8 1/3 innings of relief, allowing just one run on four hits to pick up his first win as a Bear, while Conor Smith drove in two runs and reached base safely in all three of his plate appearances to help MSU notch its first home victory of the season.

Matt Fultz also came through with a big offensive night for the Bears, launching his third home run of the season to ignite MSU's four-run second-inning rally, then driving in a big insurance run an inning later. The victory handed the Bears (10-13) their first decision in five games at Hammons Field this season and snapped a five-game skid at home overall.

After ASU (14-11) scored three times in the top of the first, Perez (1-0) slammed the door by allowing just two hits over the next seven frames, including a stretch in which he retired 10 Red Wolves in a row from the fifth through the eighth innings. The sophomore right-hander would keep ASU off the scoreboard until Dustin Jones's one-out double in the ninth brought home Kaleb Brown to slice the Bears' lead to 5-4. With the tying run in scoring position, Perez promptly retired Austin Baker on a bouncer to first and induced a Lucas Feddersen grounder to second for the final out.

The 8.1 inning effort for Perez eclipsed his previous career-long performance by a full 6 1/3 innings and marked the longest relief effort for a MSU hurler since Matt Hall worked 8.1 innings vs. Wichita State on May 5, 2013. In all, the Branson, Mo., product struck out six batters--also a career-best--without issuing a single walk.

Arkansas State jumped on Bears left-hander Jordan Knutson for three runs in the first inning, taking advantage of three walks, a hit batsman and a pair of wild pitches from the first-time freshman starter. After a ground ball to second off the bat of Jones on the game's first pitch, Baker drove a base hit into left-center, before Feddersen and Matt Burgess drew back-to-back walks to load the bases. Tanner Ring plated Baker with the first run of the game on a solid single to center, and the second Knutson wild pitch of the inning brought in Feddersen. Joe Schrimpf's sacrifice fly added a third ASU run before Perez took over for Knutson.

Despite facing the early deficit, Missouri State wasted little time in turning the tables, striking for four runs on four hits in the second to claim the upper hand for good. Fultz delivered the first blow with a solo shot to right-center, kicking off a string of four consecutive MSU hits. Spencer Johnson followed with a base hit to right-center off ASU starter Adam Grantham, just ahead of an Eric Cheray single to left. Next, Smith chased both baserunners home to even the score with a booming double off the wall in right-center field. After a wild pitch allowed Smith to advance to third, Patrick Drake put MSU on top with an RBI grounder to short in his first at-bat after missing the Bears' previous nine games due to injury.

Dylan Becker singled to lead off the second before swiping his team-high sixth bag of the season to set up another scoring opportunity for MSU in the third. A Tate Matheny grounder moved the runner to third, and Fultz made it a 5-3 affair with his bouncing ball to the right side of the ASU infield.

From there neither team was able to muster much of an offensive threat in a steady rainfall coupled with temperatures falling into the lower 40's. Derek Birginske doubled with two out in the fifth to account for the Red Wolves last hit until Tyler Hardie led off the ninth with a base hit through the right side of the infield.

Grantham (0-1) took the loss for ASU after allowing all five MSU runs on five hits in his 4.0 innings of work. Reliever Bryan Ayers held the Bears scoreless on one hit over the final four frames, striking out four in the process to keep his club in the game.

Missouri State continues its longest homestand of the season Friday (March 28) when it welcomes Southern Illinois to Hammons Field for a three-game Missouri Valley Conference series. The opener is slated for a 6:35 p.m. start, followed by a 2:05 p.m. game Saturday and a 1:05 p.m. start Sunday.

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