SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Three Missouri State pitchers combined to hold Illinois State scoreless over the final eight innings of the two clubs’ Missouri Valley Conference series opener, as the Bears erased an early two-run deficit to post their 19th consecutive regular-season home conference victory with a 4-2 decision over the Redbirds Friday evening at Hammons Field.
After struggling to survive a rocky first inning, MSU starter Dylan Coleman righted the ship to keep the Redbirds (14-20, 4-6 MVC) at bay through six innings, recording 11 of the Bears’ season-high 16 strikeouts to earn his 20th career mound- victory. The junior right-hander issued four of his seven walks in the opening frame and needed 41 pitches to work through the inning after Owen Miller’s two-run homer staked ISU to an early 2-0 advantage.
But Coleman (6-2) bounced back, striking out the side in the first and fanning two more Redbirds in the second. He worked around a leadoff walk and a two-out infield single in the third and stranded two more ISU baserunners in the fourth, scattering five hits in his 6.0 innings.
MSU (23-11, 6-1 MVC), which entered the series having dropped four-straight contests, failed to muster any kind of offense against ISU starting pitcher Brent Headrick (1-6), who was masterful through five innings in preserving the visitors’ lead. The left-hander allowed just a two-out baserunner in the third on a fielding miscue, before Matt Brown launched a two-out, solo shot to left in the fourth to put the Bears on the scoreboard.
Headrick set the Bears down in order for a third time in the fifth, but John Privitera led off the sixth with a walk to kick off what would prove to be the game’s critical scoring rally. Hunter Steinmetz‘s bunt—the first of a season-best three MSU sacrifices on the night—moved the runner into scoring position, and Jeremy Eierman brought the tying run home with a line-drive single to left. Back-to-back two-out free passes to Brown and Ryan Skalnik kept the inning alive, before Headrick was called for a balk with the bases loaded to bring in Eierman with the go-ahead tally.
From there, the relief duo of Davis Schwab and Connor Sechler turned out the lights of the Redbirds, combining for 3.0 hitless innings. Schwab allowed a walk in his two-thirds of an inning, before Sechler turned in an inning-ending strikeout with a runner aboard to end the seventh. MSU’s freshman closer would strike out four more ISU hitters over the final two frames.
The Bears, who tallied runs on three of their four hits in the contest, tacked on an insurance run in the home half of the seventh, capitalizing on a hit batsman, a Jack Duffy sac bunt and a run-scoring single by Privitera to double their lead.
Sechler avoided trouble in the eighth after issuing a one-out walk, striking out Joe Aeilts and retiring John Rave on a chopper to second. He fanned two more in the ninth to work around a pair of two-out baserunners that brought the potential go-ahead run to the plate, freezing Derek Parola on a called third strike to lock up the win and his third save as a Bear.
Brown stretched his career-best hit streak to eight games, going 2-for-3 with a walk, a run scored and an RBI, while matching the home run totals of Eierman and Ben Whetstone with his fifth round-tripper of the season.
Miller led ISU’s offense with a 2-for-5 night, including his third homer of 2018, and Tyson Hays reached base safely in four of his five trips to the plate for the Redbirds.
The Bears and Redbirds will conclude their series Saturday (April 21) with a Noon doubleheader.