Missouri State tops Illinois State, two wins from perfect Valley season

Eric Doennig (MSU Sports Information) NORMAL, Ill. – Missouri State built an early five-run lead, then rode 4 1/3 shutdown innings of relief from Jake Fromson to an 8-5 victory — its 22nd consecutive regular-season Missouri Valley Conference win — over Illinois State Thursday evening at Duffy Bass Field.

After taking over with the potential tying run in scoring position in the bottom of the fourth inning, Fromson (7-3) retired the first 11 Redbird hitters he faced to hold off the home club and help the MVC champion Bears (37-14, 18-0 MVC) maintain their perfect Valley record. The junior right-hander matched a career high with eight strikeouts and allowed just one baserunner to earn his league-leading seventh win of the season.

MSU received a lift from the top of its batting order throughout the night, as the Bears’ first five hitters combined to reach base safely in 14 of 25 combined plate appearances, scoring six times and recording all eight of the club’s RBIs. Blake Graham homered and drove in three runs, while Jeremy Eierman and Justin Paulsen each plated a pair of runs and Jake Burger led the Bears with three hits.

The Bears used the long ball to break on top early, as a hit batsman and Graham’s eighth home run of the season started off the top of the second to give Missouri State a 2-0 advantage. MSU would score in each of the next two innings as well, taking advantage of six walks in the third and fourth innings to build their five-run cushion.

Hunter Steinmetz’s one-out double set off a string of five-straight MSU hitters reaching base safely in the third. Paulsen drove a run-scoring single to right-center, before a Burger base hit and back-to-back walks to Eierman and Graham produced another run.

Back-to-back free passes to John Privitera and Steinmetz brought about an early end to ISU starter Brady Huffman’s night with one out in the fourth. Two more walks from reliever Mitch Weis added a fifth run to the Bears’ total, the last of which came with the bases loaded to allow Eierman to add to his MVC-leading RBI total.

But the Redbirds responded in the home half of the fourth, getting a leadoff single by Derek Parola to start a rally that would ultimately close the gap to just one run. Collin Braithwaite and John Rave added base hits to fuel the Illinois State offense, before Joe Butler’s double into the left-center field gap cleared the bases and pulled the home team to within two runs. Bears starter Jordan Knutson rebounded momentarily to retire the next two hitters on fly balls to right, but No. 9 hitter Noah Sadler came through with a two-out double to left to plate the fourth ISU run of the inning.

Fromson would relieve Knutson with the potential tying run at third and promptly retire Owen Miller on an inning-ending fly ball to left. After a ground ball to short started the fifth, he would strike out five batters in a row from that point, fanning two Redbirds in the fifth before punching out the side in the sixth. Fromson allowed a one-out double to Braithwaite in the eighth, but retired the next two hitters to keep ISU off the scoreboard.

The Bears would build their lead back to three runs in the sixth, as a Privitera single ignited another rally. Steinmetz drew his second free base of the game, and Paulsen brought home another run with a bouncer to third. Burger delivered an infield single to set up an Eierman sac fly to center that made it a 7-4 game.

For the fourth time in the game, Paulsen played a key role in a Bears scoring rally with a two-out double in the eighth. Burger followed with a single to left, and Paulsen scored with an acrobatic effort to avoid the tag of Braithwaite.

Bryan Young closed out the victory with a pair of strikeouts in the ninth, despite allowing a two-out home run to Sadler. That drive to center marked the first hit allowed by the senior closer since March 15 at SEMO.

Sadler’s 2-for-4 effort led ISU, while Braithwaite added a pair of hits and Butler finished with three RBIs. Huffman (3-5) suffered the loss for the Redbirds after allowing five runs on four hits and four walks over his 3 1/3 innings.

The Bears and Redbirds will continue their series with game two of the three-game set Friday (May 19) afternoon at 2 p.m.

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