Power Surge Fuels Bears' Sweep of Redbirds

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Keyed by a big afternoon from Drew Millas, Missouri State powered up to club five home runs in a doubleheader sweep of Illinois State Saturday at Hammons Field. The Bears claimed game one by a 6-3 score, with Millas's three-run, seventh-inning homer providing the decisive margin, before matching a season high with four long balls in a 12-3 win in the second contest.

Millas, who also homered in game two of the twin bill, finished the day a combined 4-for-6 with seven RBIs to help the Bears finish off the series sweep of the Redbirds and remain atop the Missouri Valley Conference standings.

On the mound, the Bears (25-11, 8-1) received shutdown performances from starters Logan Wiley and Matt Russell, who limited Illinois State (14-22, 4-8 MVC) to four earned runs in their 12.1 combined innings. In all, the Bears pitching staff shackled the Redbirds by allowing just 15 hits in the three-game series, while the Missouri State lineup blasted six home runs in outscoring ISU by a 22-8 margin.

Game 1 – MSU 6, Illinois State 3
Millas drove in four of the Bears' six runs, including the decisive three-run clout in the bottom of the seventh that snapped a 3-3 deadlock. Wiley (5-3) also played a significant role, handcuffing the Redbirds over a career-long 7 1/3 inning effort, allowing just one earned run on five hits and one walk.

In addition to Millas's 2-for-3 effort, Jeremy Eierman and Ben Whetstone also recorded two-hit games and drove in one run apiece for MSU.

The Bears grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first, using a leadoff walk to Hunter Steinmetz to set up an early scoring opportunity. The junior then swiped second for his eighth steal of the season, before Millas's one-out single up the middle plated the game's run.

Wiley was in command early, setting down the first six Redbird hitters of the game in order. But Joe Aeilts led off the top of the third with a bunt single, and Nick Zouras followed with a perfectly-placed bloop single just inside the right-field line to put a pair of ISU runners on with nobody out.

The normally-reliable MSU infield compounded the situation with errors on what appeared to be ground ball double-play opportunities that would have thwarted the Redbird rally. Instead, ISU scored three times—only one run of which was earned—to grab a 3-1 advantage.

MSU answered with a two-out rally in the home half of the third, using a walk to Millas and a Whetstone single to pull to within a run. Eierman's two-out single the following inning brought home the tying run after a hit batsman and a Logan Geha infield single set the table.

Steinmetz would spark the key Missouri State rally with a leadoff single, and a walk to Eierman would put two runners aboard for Millas. The sophomore laid into a 3-2 Colton Johnson (2-2) offering for a long drive that cleared the berm in left for the game's critical blow.

Given the three-run cushion, the MSU pitching staff took care of the rest, with Jake Lochner and Connor Sechler following Wiley's effort with 1.2 innings of no-hit relief. Lochner picked up a key strikeout of the only batter he faced with the tying run at the plate in the eighth, and Sechler notched his second save in the series by retiring the final four hitters of the game in succession.

Game 2 – MSU 12, Illinois State 3
Missouri State continued its hot streak at the plate, gashing ISU pitching for a season-high 15 hits—including a career-best 4-for-4 day from Ryan Skalnik—while belting four home runs to match another single-game high for 2018. Millas set the tone in game two as well, handing the Bears a 2-0 lead in the first with a two-run single that followed a walk to Steinmetz and an Eierman double. 

From there, a trio of two-run homers over the ensuing two innings stretched the MSU lead to eight runs. With two out in the second, Eierman lifted off for his sixth home run of the season, sending a Matt Walker (4-1) pitch over the wall in left for a 4-0 MSU advantage. After a walk to Millas, Brown cashed in with a towering drive that landed in the Bears' bullpen in left that made it a six-run game.

In his first collegiate start, Russell made quick work of the Redbirds through the first three innings, allowing just one hit and three total baserunners.

After Landan Ruff's two-run blast in the bottom of the third pushed the Bears' lead to 8-0, ISU broke through for three two-out tallies of its own to momentarily pull to within five runs. Jordan Libman's two-out single put the Redbirds on the board, and Derek Parola followed with a two-run homer to left.

Russell (1-0) responded by retiring the final four hitters he faced, capping his day with a 1-2-3 inning in the fifth. In all, the freshman scattered four hits in his 5.0 frames, striking out five batters before handing the ball off to Nate Witherspoon  to start the sixth.

The Bears added a single run in the fifth on Steinmetz's two-out single, before Millas delivered a solo shot to left-center leading off the sixth. Skalnik's fourth hit—a two-out double—resulted in the 11th MSU run when Jack Duffy drove him home with a base hit. Steinmetz reached base for the third time with a one-out walk in the seventh, and Brown's sac fly to center plated him moments later to account for the final margin.

ISU never threatened the Bears' lead from that point, as Witherspoon retired nine of the last 10 hitters he faced after issuing a leadoff walk in the sixth. Zach Gibbs would close out the Bears' 20th consecutive home conference win with a perfect ninth inning.

Eierman complimented Skalnik’s four-hit game—the third by a Bear in the last six games—with a 3-for-5 game, while both Brown and Millas drove in three runs for MSU.

Up next, the Bears will look to extend their hot streak with a non-conference contest against Missouri Tuesday (April 24) in Columbia. First pitch from Taylor Stadium is slated for 6:30 p.m. (CDT).

Courtesy of Missouri State Athletic Communications.

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