Austin McPheron improved his record to 3-1 with his second-straight win.
April 22, 2014
By Scott Gierman
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Southern Illinois broke a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 win over Southeast Missouri State Tuesday evening at Itchy Jones Stadium. Southern (21-20) got back on track with the help of strong pitching against the Redhawks (27-13), who entered the game with the 10th best batting average in the nation.
“This club always shows up to play and plays hard,” SIU Coach Ken Henderson said. “We needed to get out here and win a game to get a little bit of momentum.”
SIU rallied for three runs in the fourth inning to take a 3-1 lead and never looked back. Jake Welch started the inning with a two-strike home run to tie the game at 1-1.
“(Hitting) coach (Ryan) Strain said if you get a fastball, just try to hit it up the middle,” Welch said. “I was a little early, and that’s why I pulled it. I was able to get a barrel on it, and thank God the wind was blowing out.”
Ryan Casillas followed Welch with his team-leading 16th double of the season, and Cody Daily drew a 10-pitch walk. After a fielder’s choice, Tyler Rolland gave SIU the lead when he drove in Daily with a chopper up the middle, and Will Farmer stretched the lead to 3-1 with a two-out infield single to score Jake Hand.
“We did a really good job today of picking up guys on offense,” Henderson said. “We had some really good ABs and executed bunts, so it was a good day for the offense.”
“That’s one of the best offensive clubs we’ll face,” Henderson said. “(McPheron) pounded the zone. He didn’t throw many breaking balls. It was a good day to hit with the wind blowing out, but he did a great job.”
McPheron credited his command to the improved performance this time around.
“The last time I faced them, I missed my spots early,” McPheron said. “This time I focused on hitting my spots, and that really helped me out a bunch. I had my fastball working early. As the game went on, the hitters adjusted, so I tried to mix in some offspeed, and it worked for me.”
SEMO cut the lead to 3-2 with Derek Gibson’s sacrifice fly in the top of the sixth inning. McPheron began the inning with a leadoff walk to Dalton Hewitt, who moved to third on Matt Tellor’s double to right field and scored on the one-out sac fly. McPheron was able to escape the inning with no further damage. However, the leadoff walk cost him a chance to pitch in the seventh.
“I told coach I wanted to go one more (inning),” McPheron said, “but he told me if I didn’t walk the leadoff guy, I could’ve.”
Still leading 3-2, the Salukis got some breathing room with a pair of insurance runs in the seventh inning. Will Farmer led off the inning with a double to left field for his second hit of the day. Dyllin Mucha followed with a ground ball to the right side of the infield. Tellor attempted a diving stop, but it kicked off his glove and rolled far enough to allow Farmer to score from second base.
The next batter, Connor Kopach, dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move Mucha to third base. However, Tellor caught the throw at first base in the baseline and could not hold onto the ball as Kopach ran through the tag. Tellor immediately went down and left the game with an apparent wrist injury. Jake Welch then drove in Mucha with a fielder’s choice.
The Saluki bullpen threw three scoreless innings to preserve the lead. Lee Weld and Kyle Pauly combined to pitch a scoreless seventh and eighth innings. Weld left with two on and two out in the seventh, and Pauly finished the inning with a strikeout. Pauly then allowed two one-out singles in the eighth but escaped with no damage.
Tyler Dray nailed down his seventh save of the season in nine chances with a relatively easy ninth inning. His only blemish was a one-out walk. He was able to bounce back after blowing an 11th-inning save on Saturday at Wichita State. Tuesday’s save gave Dray 16 for his career, as he passed Andrew Weber and moved into fourth place on the school’s all-time saves list.
“We needed a win,” Henderson said. “We needed to close out a game, so it was good to see Dray finish it up.”
SIU will return to the road this weekend for a three-game series against intrastate Missouri Valley Conference rival Illinois State. The series begins Friday at 6 p.m. in Normal, Ill.