By Scott Gierman
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Austin Montgomery’s solo home run on the first pitch of the seventh inning broke a tie game and lifted the Southern Illinois baseball team to a 4-2 victory Saturday afternoon at Dusty Rhodes Field at Harmon Stadium. Southern Illinois’ bullpen tossed four scoreless innings to prevent a comeback.
After a shaky defensive effort in the opener, the Salukis (1-1) bounced back with a solid effort to stifle numerous North Florida (1-1) rallies.
“It’s really important to get that first win,” Montgomery said. “I think it gives us a lot of confidence going into tomorrow. We had some issues yesterday, but being able to come back and play better is just that much more important.”
Sam Coonrod picked up the win for SIU in his collegiate debut. He entered the game with the score tied at 2-2 and nobody out in the sixth inning. He did not allow a hit in two scoreless innings.
“What a situation to put a freshman (Coonrod) in,” SIU coach Ken Henderson said, “but he responded and did a great job.”
North Florida starter Michael Renner took the loss. He allowed three runs off six hits in six and a third innings. Tyler Dray pitched a perfect eighth inning for the Dawgs. Todd Eaton relieved him to get the last two outs in the ninth and earn his first save of the year.
“Dray and Eaton did what they did last year,” Henderson said. “They did what we expect them to do. They came in and they were both outstanding.”
SIU starter Cameron Maldonado departed after allowing a two-run homer to Michael Wesner in the bottom of the sixth inning. It was the only offensive outburst for the Ospreys in the game.
Maldonado made big pitches when he needed to in the first five innings before finally allowing the runs in the sixth. He stranded six runners in his five-plus innings of work before departing with nobody out in the sixth.
“The story of the ballgame was on the mound,” SIU coach Ken Henderson said. “Maldonado was outstanding. He got a little tired late and gave up the two runs, but he did a great job. And the bullpen was fantastic.”
Derek Trovillion put the Salukis on the board first in the bottom of the second inning with a sacrifice fly.
“Bajer was outstanding,” Henderson said. “We’ve said ever since he’s been here that he has the arm strength to do it, but he’s improved his footwork and his release. Coach Burke deserves some of the credit for that. He’s worked really hard, and Baj has worked hard. Those are three throws as good as you’ll see. You can’t underestimate how important that was to the win.”
A pair of lefties will take the mound when the series concludes with Game 3 on Sunday at noon Central Time. Nathan Dorris will make his debut on the mound for SIU against Tommy Organ for North Florida.