With starter's strong performance, defending champ Bears oust UIC

·3 min read

May 25—After 41 years at Missouri State, Bears coach Keith Guttin knows the prime ingredient to staying alive in the five-day Missouri Valley Conference baseball tournament.

"Good starting pitching would be the way to begin," Guttin said after his team eliminated UIC with a strong 5-0 win Thursday afternoon at Bob Warn Field in Terre Haute. "And we got it today." Indeed, Bears right-hander Hayden Minton (6-2) scattered three Flames hits over seven innings, striking out seven batters and walking three to get the win. Reliever Scott Youngbrandt finished the final two innings, spotlessly.

Missouri State right fielder Zack Stewart drove in three runs, singled and hit his 12th homer. The second-seeded Bears improved to 32-22, while No. 6 UIC finishes 28-25.

Redshirt sophomore righty Jake Eddington (4-2), Missouri State's No. 3 starter, will likely get the call for his team's next game at 11 a.m. Friday against the loser of Thursday's late game, No. 5 seed Murray State.

The Bears are the tournament's defending champs, but Guttin dismissed any relevance that point had in this tournament. "Zero," he said. "That was last year. It didn't seem to matter to Murray State when they were beating us last night." Indeed, No. 5 Murray State beat Missouri State 6-1 on Wednesday.

Also Thursday in the tournament:

—Belmont 6, Southern Illinois 5 — The third-seeded Salukis got bumped from the tournament, as No. 7 Belmont rallied for four runs in the final two innings.

Bruins reliever Ethan Harden (5-2) pitched two scoreless final innings to earn the victory. Harden also went to the plate and rapped a decisive RBI single in the top of the ninth, with two strikes and two outs no less, to give his team a one-run lead.

Belmont also eliminated No. 8 seed Valparaiso in a 10-9 victory on Wednesday that featured the Bruins scoring nine second-inning runs. The Bruins added an insurance run in the sixth inning, just enough to hold off the Beacons, who finished 20-27.

SIU, which finished 30-27, got earlier homers from Ryan Rodriguez and Matt Schark, but Belmont made its seven hits count. Mason Landers had a double and three RBI for the Bruins.

—Tourney notes — Belmont's hard-hitting first baseman and team captain, Brodey Heaton, is the great-nephew of Bob Heaton, a difference-maker for ISU's 1978-79 NCAA finalist basketball team. Heaton came into Thursday's MVC Tournament game against Indiana State with a .265 batting average, 10 homers and 44 RBI, including a grand slam (his third homer of the MVC Tournament) in Wednesday's Bruins win over Valparaiso. He's the son of Bryan and Crystal Heaton of Newburgh, Ind. ... ISU entered Thursday ranked among the nation's best teams statistically; third in fielding percentage, eighth in earned-run average, fourth in WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched), and ninth in fewest walks allowed. ... When Belmont pitcher Joe Ruzicka hit Sycamore Randal Diaz with a pitch in the fifth inning, that marked ISU's 101st HBP this season. Minutes later, Belmont reliever hit Adam Pottinger for No. 102. Creighton set the MVC record with 116 HBPs in 2007.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.