A blister reconfigured Missouri State’s pitching rotation and it didn’t bother the Bears one bit. They possess the luxury of two Pitcher-of-the-Year talents, which is why they are the top seed in the MVC Tournament and likely host of an NCAA regional next week.
Missouri State breezed past eighth-seeded Southern Illinois 7-0 on Wednesday at Eck Stadium in the opening round of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. All-MVC pick Matt Hall subbed for MVC Pitcher of the Year Jon Harris and struck out 11 in eight innings.
MSU (42-10) plays the winner of Wichita State-Illinois State at 7:30 p.m., Thursday. SIU (11-45) lost its seventh straight game and will play at 12:30 p.m.
The Bears, winners of 13 straight, will throw Harris on Thursday. It made no difference on Wednesday against SIU. The Bears led 4-0 after the first inning and 6-0 after the second.
“You can’t get behind a pitcher like that, four, five, six runs,” SIU coach Ken Henderson said. “He’s just too good. He might be the hottest pitcher in the league right now.”
Hall, a lefty who tops out around 89 mph, kept the Salukis off-balance with his off-speed pitches. He expertly hit his spots and set up batters for wild swings or none at all. He struck out the side in the second after walking the leadoff hitter. He struck out the side again in the fourth and the sixth.
Three Salukis reached scoring position, one on third base.
“My curveball struggled early on, but my slider was able to back that up,” Hall said. “I decided to pitch backwards almost — sliders early and fastballs late. That made my fastball look more firm.”
It all looked hard to hit to the Salukis.
“He never did the same, exact thing to a batter in consecutive at-bats,” SIU first baseman Greg Lambert said. “He would switch up pitches evvery single at-bat. He threw me a lot of fastballs, but he also threw me curveballs in counts where you would think a fastball is coming.”
The Bears waited on fastballs from SIU starter Chad Whitmer, who failed to guide his off-speed pitches near the strike zone with any deception.
Whitmer gave up six runs and six hits in an inning, exiting after a walk to No. 9 hitter Matt Fultz and a double by Dylan Becker started the second.
“When (Hall) goes out, you know you don’t have to score a bunch,” MSU coach Keith Guttin said. “When you score some early, you’re pretty relaxed.”
Becker led off the game with a single and moved to third on Joey Hawkins’ hit-and-run single to right field, starting Whitmer’s misery. Tate Matheny doubled to right to start the scoring. Hawkins scored on a sacrifice fly by Justin Paulsen. A double by Spencer Johnson forced center fielder Braden Mosley to turn and run to the fence before it landed to score Matheny for a 3-0 lead.
Eric Cheray’s single ended the scoring and gave the Bears a 4-0 lead.
MSU made it 6-0 in the second and that seemed an obscene edge with Hall on the mound.
Matheny drove in two runs. Becker went 2 for 3 and scored two.
0 3 1
7 8 1
W – Hall, 10-2. L – Whitmer, 0-6.