Highlighted by a four-run sixth inning that snapped a 2-2 deadlock, Missouri State scored eight unanswered runs en route to an 8-2 victory over Evansville Saturday afternoon at Hammons Field.
Ben Whetstone laced a two-run single through the right side of the Purple Aces infield, and Matt Brown drove in two more runs with a double to left, as the Bears (21-7, 4-1 MVC) scored four two-out runs in the sixth to turn the tide for good. Whetstone recorded hits in each of his final three at-bats, matching Drew Millas‘s 3-for-5 afternoon to help spearhead MSU’s 11-hit attack.
On the mound, the freshman duo of Ty Buckner (3-2) and Matt Russell combined to hold Evansville (6-18, 0-2 MVC) scoreless over the final eight frames after the Aces grabbed a 2-0 first-inning lead on Tanner Craig’s two-run double.
The Bears found themselves in an early hole, after a rocky first inning from Buckner and the MSU defense gift-wrapped a pair of UE runs. After striking out the first batter of the game, Buckner issued back-to-back walks to Troy Beilsmith and Dalton Horstmeier, before getting Trenton Crews on a chopper to shortstop. The Bears right-hander appeared to work his way out of trouble when Craig skied a routine fly to center, only to watch the ball fall in for a two-run double after Hunter Steinmetz lost it in the sun.
But MSU would answer in its first turn at bat, taking advantage of a leadoff walk to Steinmetz and a throwing error to pull even at 2-2. After Steinmetz coaxed a free pass from UE starter Jace Burke (0-3), Jeremy Eierman reached after Stewart Nelson’s throw to first was wide of the bag on a hot shot to third. Millas put the Bears on the board with the first of his three hits, and a wild pitch allowed Eierman to trot home from third with the tying run.
From that point, Buckner held the Aces hitless through the fifth, retiring 10 straight hitters and allowing just one additional baserunner before Russell took over to start the sixth. Russell would pick up right where Buckner left off, facing just one batter over the minimum through his first 3 1/3 innings and permitting only three hits over 4.0 total innings to earn his third save.
The Bears’ key rally started with a one-out Steinmetz single and an Eierman double on a 3-0 pitch from Burke. Following a strikeout for the second out of the inning, Whetstone lined a base hit through a shifted Evansville infield, plating both baserunners for a 4-2 MSU lead. Jack Duffy kept the inning alive by drawing a walk, before Brown lined a two-run double up the left field line to double the margin.
After the duo of Millas and Whetstone ignited another rally with singles to start the seventh, MSU tacked on a pair of additional two-out tallies, courtesy of back-to-back bases-loaded walks to Landan Ruff and John Privitera.
The victory marked the Bears’ ninth straight at Hammons Field and their 10th win in 12 home games so far this season. It also guaranteed MSU’s 10th straight MVC series win or split, dating back to May 2016.
MSU will attempt to extend its home win streak in the series finale Sunday (April 8) afternoon at 1 p.m.