SIU rallies late for 3-2 Opening Day victory

    Chad Whitmer threw three and two-thirds scoreless innings to earn the win in his collegiate debut.

    Chad Whitmer threw three and two-thirds scoreless innings to earn the win in his collegiate debut.
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    Feb. 15, 2014

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    BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - After waiting an extra day to start the season, SIU waited until the eighth inning to take its first lead in a 3-2 Opening Day victory over Western Kentucky Saturday afternoon. The Salukis fell behind 2-0 in the first inning then rallied for a pair of late runs on a frigid Saturday afternoon at Nick Denes Field.

    "It was a great job by our kids, persevering, hanging in there and finding a way to get it done," SIU Coach Ken Henderson said. "We need to learn how to win, and winning a game like this is a step in the right direction."

    Trailing 2-1 after seven innings, Southern Illinois took the lead with a two-run rally in the top of the eighth. Jake Welch led off with a single to left field. After Parker Osborne bunted him to second base, Matt Jones lined a single to left field, and Welch slid home just ahead of the tag to tie the game at 2-2.

    "I got a fastball and was able to take it into left field," Jones said. "It felt pretty good to finally get a hit and for it to be in that situation, so that's a good start to the year."

    Western Kentucky then brought in Brandon Allen to face Ryan Casillas, who singled to put runners at the corners. Cody Daily followed with a sacrifice fly to chase home Jones with the go-ahead run.

    Derek Fogel pitched a perfect eighth, and Tyler Dray threw a scoreless ninth to pick up the save. Both Fogel and Dray struck out the final two batters of their respective inning. Dray moved into a sixth-place tie on SIU's all-time list with his 10th career save.

    "The entire bullpen was great today," Henderson said. "To go five and two-thirds and give up one hit and no runs, all those guys did a great job."

    SIU freshman Chad Whitmer was stellar in middle relief and picked up the win in his collegiate debut. He entered with one out in the fourth and allowed just one hit in three and two-thirds scoreless innings.

    "I didn't think coming into this game that I would even have a shot at getting the win or that I'd be the first one out of the bullpen," Whitmer said, "but I got the call, and I was ready. It feels amazing."

    The Hilltoppers, leading 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh, threatened to add an insurance run when David Simmons hit a one-out triple that hit two-thirds of the way up the left field wall. However, SIU brought the infield in for the next batter, and Cody Wofford hit a sharp grounder to Jake Welch, who threw out Simmons at the plate.

    Saluki starter Sam Coonrod allowed two runs off three hits in a 28-pitch first inning then tossed two and a third scoreless innings after that. He topped his pitch limit of 50 in the fourth and departed with one out and one on with the Salukis down 2-1.

    "Sam threw better than that first inning shows," Henderson said. "Unfortunately, being on a pitch count, he threw half his pitches in the first inning. It's a credit to him to come back and throw two really good innings to get into the fourth inning for us. I thought he threw well, especially with the conditions."

    SIU's shaky first inning defense allowed WKU to strike with a pair of runs in the first frame. After Cody Wofford led off with a chopper to the left side that was ruled a single, Scott Wilcox and Ryan Church each delivered an RBI double to give the Hilltoppers an early 2-0 lead. The inning was extended by Will Farmer's error at third base, but Coonrod got out of it with a strikeout.

    "We got off to a bad start, maybe it was nerves," Henderson said. "We gave them too many extra outs in that first inning."

    Southern cut the deficit to 2-1 in the top of the second. The Salukis had runners at second and third with no outs and managed to push across one run on Farmer's RBI groundout. Over the next five innings, both teams were held scoreless and managed two hits apiece.

    "Even in the middle of the game when we were down one, I thought we were playing well and doing a lot of good things," Henderson said. "It feels awfully good to be rewarded for that."