Burger plates five, Bears sweep Leathernecks

Led by Jake Burger’s second consecutive four-hit effort, Missouri State turned in its best offensive performance of the season to complete a two-game sweep of Western Illinois with a 15-3 victory Wednesday afternoon at Hammons Field.

MSU (14-2) pounded out 16 hits and scored in every inning except the fourth, breaking open a four-run contest with a five-run sixth that was highlighted by the first of Burger’s two homers — a three-run opposite field shot. His solo shot the following inning moved him into a tie with Samford’s Heath Quinn for the top home run total (9) in Division I baseball.

Burger, who went 4-for-4 with his second two-home run game of the season and four RBIs, also became the first Bear since Brooks Colvin in 2004 to score five times in a single game, completing the two-game series vs. the Leathernecks (2-13) with eight hits — including three long balls — in nine at-bats.

Aaron Meyer also drove in four runs for the Bears, three of which came on his bases-loaded double with two out in the first that staked MSU to an early lead. Hunter Steinmetz continued his assault on opposing defenses by reaching base safely in all five of his plate appearances, going 2-for-2 with his first home run as a Bear — a second-inning inside-the-park job — while also drawing three walks, recording a career-best three steals and scoring three runs.

On the mound, the Bears’ bullpen closed the door on the Leathernecks with 5.0 innings of no-hit relief. Jake Fromson (2-0) picked up the win, tossing 3.0 frames and allowing just one baserunner via a seventh-inning walk, and Sam Perez and Bryan Young each turned in an inning to complete the afternoon. Perez fanned the side in the eighth, before Young worked a perfect ninth in a non-save situation.

Just as they did in Tuesday’s series opener, the Bears struck early to seize a commanding lead against WIU’s starting pitcher. This time, Steinmetz and Justin Paulsen coaxed walks from Jimmy Perkins (0-1), who then hit Burger with a pitch to set the stage for Meyer’s clutch double down the right-field line that chased home all three baserunners for a 3-0 Bears lead.

The Bears added a single tally in the second on a frightening play in which a pair of WIU outfielders collided and had to leave the game on Steinmetz’s liner into the gap in right-center field. The freshman would race around the bases uncontested for his first collegiate home run and a 4-0 MSU lead. In the third, the Bears turned Burger’s leadoff single into another run, getting the first of two consecutive run-producing hits from Blake Graham, who extended his personal hit streak to a career-best 14 games with his second three-hit game in a row.

But the Leathernecks would touch up MSU starter Preston Felgate for three runs in the fourth, using a leadoff double by Colton Pogue to start their rally. Mark Garton singled and eventually was credited with a steal of home on a broken run-down, before a throwing error on a steal attempt allowed a third run to score.

MSU had an answer in the fifth, getting another leadoff hit from Burger and an RBI triple down the right-field line by Graham to initiate a surge that would see the Bears score the final 10 runs of the afternoon. After Burger’s three-run shot kicked off the scoring in the sixth, Graham and Meyer added back-to-back singles, and Matt Fultz doubled them home for a 12-3 MSU lead.

Paulsen capped the scoring in the eighth with a two-out, two-run single, giving the junior first baseman six RBIs in the two-game series with WIU.

In his first start as a Bear, Felgate allowed three runs (two earned) on six hits, while walking one and striking out one. Fromson struck out three and retired nine of the 10 batters he faced to earn his second win of the season.

Missouri State continues its nine-game home stand with a three-game set against Iowa at Hammons Field this weekend, beginning with a 3:05 p.m. contest Friday (March 18).

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