Bears Earn Season Sweep of Kansas With 5-3 Victory

A pair of clutch home runs and a strong effort from the Missouri State bullpen carried the Bears to a 5-3 victory over Kansas Wednesday evening at Hammons Field. Spencer Johnson's solo shot sparked a two-run rally that snapped a 3-3 tie in the sixth inning, and the Bears bullpen took care of the rest with three scoreless innings to complete the win and a season sweep of the Jayhawks.

Johnson matched a career high with three hits for the second time in Missouri State's last three games, going 3-for-3 with a walk and the deciding clout off KU reliever Drew Morovick, while Tate Matheny drove in the first three runs of the night for the Bears. The sophomore center fielder put MSU on top with a first-inning RBI grounder, then belted a two-run homer in the fifth to stake the home team to a 3-1 lead.

The Bears (21-25) closed out their second win over the Jayhawks (30-21) this season and their sixth in a row against KU thanks to the mound efforts of Jake Powers and Jon Harris. Powers (2-4) turned in his sixth consecutive scoreless relief outing to log the victory, holding Kansas scoreless on two hits over 3.0 innings after taking over for starting pitcher Matt Hall in the sixth. Harris, who earned his first career save in the Bears' 6-5 win over KU in Lawrence on April 23, once again closed the door with a perfect ninth, ending the game with a strikeout of Connor McKay for his second save against the Jayhawks.

In addition to big games from Johnson and Matheny, Matt Fultz delivered his 11th multi-hit game of the season with a 2-for-4 night, while Joey Hawkins walked and recorded a pair of sacrifices to move past classmate Eric Cheray for sole possession of the No. 2 spot on MSU's all-time list for sac bunts.

Held to just one run in each of their previous four home games, the Bears wasted no time in getting their offense going against KU starting pitcher Jon Hander. After Blake Graham coaxed a leadoff walk, Dylan Becker lined a single through a vacated shortstop position on a perfectly-executed hit-and-run to put runners on the corners with nobody out. Matheny took advantage of the scoring opportunity, driving home Graham with a bouncer to the right side of the infield to give MSU a 1-0 lead.

Next, Cheray nearly made it a two-run game with a squeeze attempt, but Hander gloved the ball and tossed to Ka'iana Eldredge whose tag was ruled to have beaten a sliding Becker for a rally-killing second out. Cheray was then gunned down attempting to steal second to end the inning.

Hall preserved the lead with little trouble over the game's first three frames, as the left-hander retired the first nine KU hitters he faced. Justin Protacio broke up the perfect game with a leadoff single in the fourth, and Dakota Smith's two-out single scored the Jayhawk shortstop to even the score at 1-1.

Meanwhile, Hander worked around MSU scoring threats in both the second and fourth innings after the Bears put a pair of runners on base. The right-hander escaped a two-on, one-out jam in the second by striking out Conner Wilson and inducing an inning-ending fly ball from Hawkins, then wiggled out of another tight spot in the fourth. Fultz doubled to start the inning before Johnson and Hawkins drew walks to load the bases with two out. But Graham's ground ball to short resulted in a force at second, keeping the two clubs knotted on the scoreboard.

The tide turned in the bottom of the fifth when Becker drew a leadoff walk, and Matheny blasted his ninth long ball of the season over the left-field berm on the first pitch he saw from Hander.

Kansas answered in the top of the sixth, touching up Hall for a pair of runs after putting its first three hitters on board safely. Eldredge reached on a walk before back-to-back singles from Protacio and Colby Wright made it a 3-2 game. Powers, who took over for Hall following the first KU hit of the inning, induced a fielder's choice grounder from Michael Suiter, but Smith's one-hopper to third brought home Protacio with the tying run. Becker's acrobatic stop on a hot shot from McKay saved another Jayhawk run and ended the inning.

In his first start since March 29, Hall yielded all three Kansas runs on four hits and two walks while fanning two in five-plus innings before handing the ball over to Powers. The Bears right-hander cruised from there, working a 1-2-3 seventh, then inducing an inning-ending double-play ball after Protacio singled for the third time with one out in the eighth.

Morovick (7-3) suffered the setback for KU after allowing both sixth-inning tallies. At the plate, Smith accounted for a pair of RBIs for the Jayhawks, while Protacio went 3-for-4 and scored twice.

Missouri State heads to Terre Haute, Ind., for its final regular-season MVC series against Indiana State. The three-game series gets underway Friday (May 9) evening with a 5:30 p.m. (Central) contest at Bob Warn Field.

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