Feb. 26, 2006
By Brian Feldt
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Southern Illinois University (8-1) fought off a late comeback to hold on for a 6-5 win against Central Michigan (2-4) earlier today at Abe Martin Field. The Salukis, who are off to their best start in 36 years, swept the four-game series.
SIU's sizzling 8-1 start is the best since the Salukis went 12-1 to open the Richard "Itch" Jones Era in 1970.
"It's nice to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the teams in the 70s," said Saluki head coach Dan Callahan. "When you're playing well, winning can be contagious."
The Salukis also extended their winning streak to seven games, which matches the second longest under Callahan.
SIU's first three games against CMU were decided rather convincingly, so it was only fit that the series finale would end in dramatic fashion.
Nathan Emrick's two-out, two-RBI double broke a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the eighth inning. The double, which was Emrick's second of the day, gave the Salukis a 6-4 edge, and that proved to be enough, as SIU hung on for the 6-5 win.
At the end of the game, Emrick said he was happy to come through in the given situation.
"That's where any good athlete wants to be when the game is on the line," said Emrick. "If it wasn't for the guys in front of me getting on base, I wouldn't have been able to do what I did, so I credit them for that."
Emrick's big hit secured a four-game sweep of the Mid-American West Division favorite Chippewas.
"It's a difficult task to win four games in any series against any team," said Callahan. "That's a good ball club over there, so we're happy."
The Salukis took advantage of CMU starting pitcher Ben Rodewald, who struggled with his command.
SIU scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth to take a 4-2 lead after five of eight Salukis reached base.
The Chippewas rallied back with three runs in the eighth and ninth innings.
CMU scored two of those runs off Matt Brewer, who has been an experiment on the mound so far.
"Matt hasn't been out there much," said Callahan. "He hasn't been in that situation often. However, when it's all said and done, he is going to be a factor."
Brewer, the Salukis' starting third baseman, made a spectacular play on a CMU squeeze play prior to taking the mound.
With runners on the corners, Jeff Helps laid down a bunt to try and score Noah Lankford, but Brewer dove, caught the ball bare-handed, and all in one motion, threw out Lankford at the plate.
"It was an ESPN highlight," said Callahan. "There wasn't anything wrong with the bunt or the runner. Matt just made an unbelievable play."
After Emrick's heroics in the eighth, CMU continued to chip away at Saluki pitching in the top of the ninth.
Following a pair of singles, which led to a run, Saluki closer Dusty Baker once again held off the Chippewas.
Baker closed out the eighth and made a clutch pitch to strike out Ben Humphrey in the ninth. Baker, who improved to 2-0, was credited with back-to-back saves against the Chippewas before picking up today's win.
Kyle Catto allowed two hits in five innings in his first start at SIU. Catto left the game in the fifth due to a high pitch count.
Offensively, it was status quo for the Dawgs, who registered double-digit (12) hits for the seventh game in a row.
Of that group, Koski had the biggest series against the Chippewas, where he hit a blazing .556 (10-for-18) with seven runs scored, two doubles, six RBI, a .667 slugging percentage and two walks.
Since his school record 36-game hitting streak ended on Feb. 11, Koski has hit .588 (20-for-34) with 15 runs, 11 RBI, three doubles, a triple, three walks and three stolen bases.
He also pounded out multiple-hits in each of his last seven games and posted single-game career-highs in both hits (5, at Florida Atlantic on Feb. 12) and RBI (4, vs. Central Michigan on Feb. 23).
Saluki hitters were also clutch in two-out situations against CMU, where they boasted a .385 average and knocked in 18 runs.
SIU hits the road to face Murray State on Wednesday at 1 p.m., CST.