NORMAL — Illinois State's baseball team was thinking upset over surging Missouri State on Thursday night at Duffy Bass Field.
Then Jake Fromson entered in the fourth inning.
Fromson put out a Redbird rally that cut the Bears' lead to 5-4. The junior right-hander retired the first 11 batters he faced as No. 12-ranked Missouri State stayed unbeaten in the Missouri Valley Conference with an 8-5 victory over ISU.
“They're the best team in the league, by far. The statistics say that. They're leading the league for a reason,” said ISU coach Bo Durkac. “They're outscoring opponents 2-1 in league play. Judging by that metric we hung with them well tonight.”
ISU suffered its seventh straight loss in dropping to 12-38 overall and 1-18 in the Valley. The Redbirds and Bears (37-14, 18-0), who have won seven in a row, meet at 2 p.m. Friday at Duffy Bass Field.
Noah Sadler, who hit a solo homer in the ninth, said the Redbirds “absolutely” took a lot out of the game.
“Today was a good start to the series for us. We came out and we did a lot of things right,” said Sadler, whose ninth-inning blast off Bryan Young cleared the center field fence. “We'll come back out here tomorrow and fight these guys to the end.”
Fromson (7-3), who came in with a 2.16 earned run average, allowed only three balls to be hit out of the infield while striking out eight in 4 1/3 innings. Collin Braithwaite got ISU's only hit off Fromson with a double off the left field fence in the eighth.
“He wasn't missing his spots, that's for sure,” said Sadler of Fromson. “He kept guys off balance and he just executed in spots he needed to, and the results showed that.”
Brady Huffman (3-5), the first of four ISU pitchers, went 3 1/3 innings and took the loss. He allowed five runs, all earned, on four hits while walking four and striking out four.
Missouri State, trying to become the first Valley team since 1968 to go unbeaten in league play, took a 2-0 lead in the second when Blake Graham drove Huffman's 2-1 offering over the right-field fence with Jeremy Eierman, who was hit by a pitch, aboard.
ISU's Joe Butler tried to score in the second on a throwing error. But first baseman Justin Paulsen made a perfect throw to catcher Drew Millas to nip Butler at the plate.
The Bears scored another pair in the third. Huffman got out of a bigger mess when he struck out two with the bases loaded, but he was yanked after walking two with one out in the fourth. Mitch Weis walked two and threw a wild pitch, but escaped with only one run scoring.
ISU finally got to senior lefthander Jordan Knutson in the fourth. Derek Parola and Braithwaite led off with singles and John Rave reached on a bunt. Butler cleared the bases as he ripped a three-run double to left center.
Sadler, the Redbirds' No. 9 hitter, delivered a two-out double down the left-field line to score Butler as the Bears' lead was sliced to 5-4. When Knutson walked Ryan Hutchinson, Missouri State brought in Fromson. He got out of the jam by getting Owen Miller to fly out.
Missouri State pushed the lead to 7-4 with two runs in the sixth off Weis. The Bears got their final run in the eighth off Jack Landwehr.
Jake Burger had three of Missouri State's nine hits. ISU, which had four doubles, was led by Braithwaite and Sadler with two hits each while Redbird pitchers struck out 13.
“Our (pitching) numbers were not terrible tonight,” said Durkac. “I thought Mitch, Jack and Michael (Sebby) did a good job coming out of the pen. But when you're a freshman like Brady Huffman and you've got to go out and face those guys, they make you work and don't chase many balls out of the zone.”