Baseball Bears Find Their Bats; Pound Murray State

by Missouri State Athletics

Missouri State powered up to hit a season-high four home runs—including two from freshman shortstop Mason Hull—to overcome an early four-run deficit and post its second-straight victory with a 15-10 decision over Murray State Wednesday afternoon at Reagan Field.

Each of Hull’s first two collegiate home runs proved to be pivotal, including a go-ahead, three-run blast in the sixth that put the Bears on top to stay. Fellow freshman Anthony Herron, Jr., delivered a critical three-run shot off the bench to key the Bears’ five-run fifth, after Ben Whetstone went deep for the first time in 2019 with a fourth-inning solo shot.

The Bears (9-19) matched a season high with their 15 runs, gashing Murray State (11-15) pitching for 15 hits while drawing 11 walks and three more free passes courtesy of hit batsmen. All 11 MSU players who came to the plate reached base safely via a hit, walk or hit by pitch, as John Privitera registered his fourth three-hit performance of the year, while both Joey Polak and Drew Millas added two-hit games.

MSU rallied from an early deficit to post a win for the second-straight game and the seventh time this season. Murray State jumped on top with a big first inning, touching up freshman Nick Schmidt for four runs on four hits, after the first five Racers batters reached base safely.

After Schmidt plunked Tyler Duke with his first pitch of the game, Jake Slunder’s single up the middle started a string of three consecutive hits that would ultimately plate three runs for the home club. Brock Anderson’s base hit to center chased home the game’s first two runs, before Ryan Perkins made it a 3-0 game with a run-scoring hit of his own. A two-out throwing error allowed a fourth run to score in the inning.

The Bears began their comeback an inning later, using a one-out walk to Collin Clayton to set up its first scoring threat of the day. Then, with two out, Hull drove a 1-0 offering from Racers starter Luke Brown over the left-field wall for a momentum-turning two-run blast that sliced the Murray State lead in half.

Whetstone’s solo clout to right leading off the fourth—the junior first baseman’s first long ball of the season—pulled the Bears to within a run. But the Racers used a leadoff homer of their own to momentarily build their lead back to two runs, as No. 9 hitter Jordan Holly went deep off MSU reliever Logan Thomazin to start the bottom half of the fourth.

Missouri State answered with its biggest rally of the day, using back-to-back singles from Dakota Kotowski and Polak and Herron’s pinch-hit, three-run blast to straight-away center to claim its first lead of the game. Whetstone absorbed a pitch and Jack Duffy drew a walk to keep the inning alive, before successive singles by Privitera and Logan Geha and a passed ball brought in two more runs for an 8-5 Bears advantage.

The home team had a response of its own in the bottom of the fifth, using a Sean Darmafall RBI single and consecutive two-out hits to plate three more runs as part of a four-run rally.

Jordan Fitzpatrick’s one-out hit in the sixth sparked another surge by the MSU offense, however. Whetstone reached base for the second time on a hit by pitch, before Hull lifted another long fly down the left-field line to turn the tide for good.

After MSU reliever Hayden Juenger (1-0) struck out the side in the sixth to hold the lead, the Racers chipped away in the seventh. A hit batsman and a walk set the table for Holly, who came through once again with a two-out hit to pull Murray to within one run.

But the Bears reclaimed their two-run margin on Millas’ RBI single in the eighth, before All-American closer Connor Sechler extinguished any hopes of a Racers comeback, retiring Murray in order for the first time in the game on just seven pitches in the eighth.

The Bears added three insurance runs in the ninth, cashing in on three walks and a two-run Privitera single to extend the margin to 15-10. Sechler then put the finishing touches on the victory and his second save of the season with another perfect inning that included a pair of strikeouts.

Juenger earned the mound victory with 3.0 innings of relief in which he fanned five Racers and permitted two runs on three hits. Both Duffy, who drew four walks in the game, and Whetstone reached base safely five times, while Fitzpatrick and Herron combined to go 2-for-2 with three runs scored and three RBIs off the bench.

Holly paced Murray State’s offense with a 3-for-4 effort and four RBIs, while Slunder and Anderson recorded two-hit performances.

Missouri State returns to Missouri Valley Conference play Friday (April 5), when it opens a three-game series at Southern Illinois. First pitch from Jones Stadium is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.