March 9, 2012
By Scott Gierman
CARBONDALE, Ill. – A tight pitchers duel ended on a wild note as Southern Illinois snuck past Jacksonville State with a 3-2 walk off win Friday afternoon at Abe Martin Field. With the win, SIU (9-5) has now won two in a row and five of its last six games.
Austin Montgomery scored from second base with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth on when JSU third baseman Sam Eberle committed a throwing error on a routine groundball that should have produced the second out of the inning. Montgomery had reached second base on a one-out double that was a few feet away from clearing the wall in left field.
The Salukis had a 2-1 lead in the top of the ninth when Todd Eaton struck out Andrew Bishop for what would have been the final out of the game. However catcher Brian Bajer picked up the dropped third strike and threw the ball in the dirt past first baseman Chris Serritella, allowing Adam Miller to score from second base and tie the game at 2-2. Miller had walked and advanced to second base on a wild pitch.
“It was a crazy ending for a pretty calm game up through seven or eight innings,” SIU Coach Ken Henderson said. “To go through outstanding pitching for seven innings and then all of a sudden, crazy stuff just started happening for the last couple innings. When you’re dealing with college kids, crazy things are going to happen.”
Todd Eaton pitched the ninth and took home his first win of the year for SIU. Although the run against him in the ninth was unearned, Eaton was credited with his second blown save of the season. Both of his blown saves have been the result of unearned runs.
SIU took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning thanks to crisp execution. Brock Harding drew a leadoff walk. He was replaced by pinch runner Tanner Renner, who advanced to second base on Bajer’s two-strike sacrifice bunt. Wes Neece moved Renner to third on a fly ball to center field, and Jake Welch beat out an infield single to score Renner.
“What’s interesting is that it was a 1-1 game,” Henderson said, “and what led to the runs after that were the walks. We went seven, eight innings with two great command guys and walks didn’t come into play at all. It was just a weird game.”
The story of the game for the first seven innings was great starting pitching.
“It was a great and typical Friday game because you had two outstanding pitchers who are both on top of their games,” Henderson said. “You look up and there are four or five hits per team, and you can say the offenses struggled, but they didn’t. The pitching was just outstanding.”
Southern’s starter Cody Forsythe allowed just one run off five hits in seven innings and struck out eight batters, the most by an SIU pitcher in 2012.
“We really wanted to expand the zone a lot with these guys,” Forsythe said. “I had them swinging early in some counts. I had some good offspeed stuff today, and that helped me out.”
He allowed just four hits in six shutout innings to start the game. This was Forsythe’s third start in a row in which he left in line for the win and took home a no-decision.
“Forsythe was outstanding,” Henderson said. “He’s thrown well this year, but not like he had last year. Today was as good as it gets. He was in control the entire game. He had everything working, and he just looked like the Cody Forsythe from last year. Boy, it’s good to see. He hasn’t been bad all year, but if you saw him today, there’s a big difference.”
JSU starter Aaron Elias was just as impressive. He allowed a run off four hits through seven innings. However, he pitched to the first two batters of the Salukis’ run-scoring eighth inning and was in line for the loss before the ninth inning theatrics.
Sam Coonrod tossed a perfect eighth inning for the Dawgs and would have taken the win if the game ended in the top of the ninth.
SIU scored its first run in the fourth inning on Chris Serritella’s sacrifice fly. Serritella failed to extend his hitting streak to 10 games, but leads the Salukis with 18 RBI. He has driven in at least one run in each of his past five games and nine of his last 10 games.
The Gamecocks scored their first run on Cal Lambert’s two-out RBI double in the seventh inning to tie the game at 1-1.
These two teams will conclude the three-game series with a doubleheader composed of two nine-inning games on Saturday at Abe Martin Field. The first pitch of Game 1 is scheduled for 11 a.m. The series was originally scheduled to involve a single game on Saturday and one on Sunday, but was consolidated due to a severe threat of rain on Sunday.