Salukis drop inaugural game 5-1 to Illinois at Itchy Jones Stadium

    Jake Welch picked up SIU's first hit in the seventh inning.

    Jake Welch picked up SIU's first hit in the seventh inning.
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    March 14, 2014

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    By Scott Gierman 

    CARBONDALE, Ill. - Saluki Baseball celebrated the first game played at Itchy Jones Stadium Friday afternoon but didn't record its first hit in the new ballpark until the seventh inning in a 5-1 loss to the University of Illinois. A crowd of 608 fans was in attendance to witness the winningest baseball coach in SIU history throw out the first pitch in the stadium bearing his name.

    However, southpaw Kevin Duchene became the main story once the game began. The starter for the Illini (7-7) took a perfect game into the seventh inning before Jake Welch recorded the first hit for the Salukis (8-8) with an infield single on a chopper to the shortstop. Welch was called out on the play when first base umpire Dave Condon ruled Welch had made a motion toward second base after running out the single.

    "Duchene was getting ahead of a lot of our guys," the left-handed hitting Welch said. "It was definitely tough for lefties because he had a lot of movement on his fastball. Give him credit. He got ahead, and we didn't adjust until late."

    Duchene held SIU to one run off four hits and earned a complete game victory. He struck out six and walked one.

    "Tip your hat to (Duchene)," SIU Coach Ken Henderson said, "but we're not a really tough club to pitch to right now. For about two weeks, we haven't taken very good swings."

    Illinois slowly built a 4-0 lead by plating a single run in four of the first five innings. Will Krug led off the game with a double to right field and scored on Reid Roper's triple to right-center to give Illinois a 1-0 lead. Ryan Nagel then drew a leadoff walk in the second. After Casey Fletcher singled to put runners at the corners, Zack Kolakowski drove in Nagle with an RBI groundout to make it a 2-0 game.

    The Illini manufactured another run in the fourth and knocked SIU starter Sam Coonrod out of the game with Krug's leadoff double in the fifth.

    Coonrod took the loss to drop his record to 0-2 on the season. He was charged with four runs off seven hits in four-plus innings of work.

    "He was okay," Henderson said. "He wasn't as sharp as he has been and as he can be. He got behind too many hitters. You can't do that against that kind of club."

    The Salukis matched a season high by surrendering 13 hits in the contest.

    "They're a pesky ballclub," Henderson said. "They have good approaches. They use their hands. That's why they got 13 hits, because they don't try to do too much."

    Chad Whitmer relieved Coonrod and was the only reliever used by either team in the game. Whitmer allowed the inherited runner to score in the fifth inning when Michael Hurwitz singled up the middle to extend the lead to 4-0. However, pitching in front of a large crowd, the freshman stayed in for five innings and allowed only one run off six hits to keep the Salukis on the brink of striking distance.

    "He did a great job," Henderson said. "He's done that all season. He continues to come in and pound the zone. He can play defense and even got a pickoff. In this environment, to do what he did, I'm extremely proud of him."

    SIU scored its only run in the eighth when the Salukis finally strung together a pair of hits to avoid being shut out for the second game in a row. Donny Duschinsky hit a one-out double into the left field corner and scored on Parker Osborne's single to right field. However, the threat of a big inning was snuffed out with a double play.

    Despite the result, Welch said it was exciting to play on the new field with a good crowd in attendance.

    "It seemed like it was pretty packed, and they had done a lot of work (on the stadium) since we've been out here practicing," Welch said. "It looks great. It was a lot of fun to be out here for the first time, and it seemed like a lot of people were having a good time." 

    The Salukis will try to end a season-worst five-game losing streak when the series with the Illini concludes with a doubleheader on Saturday. The first pitch is scheduled for noon.