SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – In a battle of Friday night mound aces, Missouri State’s Dylan Coleman lifted the Bears to a 5-3 decision over Southern Illinois with eight strong innings in the opening game of a key Missouri Valley Conference series at Hammons Field.
Coleman (8-2) matched a career high with 13 strikeouts, while allowing just two third-inning SIU runs on four hits to notch his 21st victory as a Bear. Matt Brown’s two-out, two-run homer in the home half of the sixth turned a 2-1 deficit into a one-run MSU advantage, ultimately helping the Bears (31-14, 14-2 MVC) maintain their one-game advantage for the top spot in the MVC standings.
Brown, who finished the night 2-for-4, also drove in an eighth-inning tally as part of a two-run Bears rally that handed freshman closer Connor Sechler a three-run lead heading into the final inning. The right-hander would work himself into and out of trouble in the ninth, surrendering a run on an Austin Ulick RBI single, before the third and fourth SIU hits of the inning put the potential go-ahead run aboard.
But Sechler finished the job, inducing a game-ending bouncer to third to lock up his sixth save, as well as the Bears’ 22nd consecutive MVC regular-season home win.
The Bears’ 16th come-from-behind victory of the season followed a familiar pattern, as SIU (25-24, 8-8 MVC) struck for two runs against Coleman in the third to gain the upper hand. Back-to-back walks to Kenton Crawford and Nokola Vasic opened the inning, and Connor Kopach’s one-out sacrifice fly to center plated the game’s first score. Next, Logan Blackfan delivered the first of his two critical hits in the game with a chopper to the left side that found its way through a shifted MSU infield, allowing Vasic to score all the way from first for a 2-0 SIU lead.
MSU responded in the bottom half of the third, using a Saluki throwing error on Logan Geha’s grounder to third to generate its first scoring chance of the game. A Michael Baird (5-4) wild pitch moved Geha into scoring position, before John Privitera put runners on the corners with an opposite-field single. Jeremy Eierman then lofted a sac fly to center to bring in Geha and cut the deficit in half.
Baird, the Valley’s ERA leader entering the contest, would surrender just two earned runs and five hits, while striking out nine Bears over his 7 2/3 innings. The right-hander worked around doubles by Ben Whetstone and Landan Ruff in the fourth and fifth innings, each time turning the Bears away with back-to-back strikeouts. But Whetstone’s one-out single in the sixth sparked the Bears’ offense, before Brown launched his team-leading eighth home run of the season onto the berm in left-center for a 3-2 MSU advantage.
Coleman would cruise to the finish line, facing just one batter over the minimum from the fourth inning through the eighth. The MVC’s strikeout leader retired nine straight SIU hitters at one point, and capped off his performance with his 12th and 13th punchouts of the game to end the eighth. Coleman also became just the second Missouri State pitcher on record to register back-to-back 100-strikeout seasons, joining Nick Petree (2012-13) on that distinguished list of Bears hurlers.
In addition to Brown’s three-RBI night, Whetstone went 2-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored to help pace the MSU offense.
The Bears and Salukis will square off again Saturday (May 12) in game two of the series, which is set to begin at 2 p.m.