May 7, 2006
By Jeff Honza
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Sophomore Tyler Lairson delivered a two-out game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth to give Southern Illinois University (32-18, 11-7) a thrilling 8-7 come-from-behind victory over Indiana State (19-27, 5-13) earlier today at Abe Martin Field.
SIU, who has won eight of its last 12 conference games, completed its first series sweep in the Valley this year.
The Salukis (.611) also moved into second-place in the league standings, just eight percentage points behind Wichita State (13-8, .619), who dropped a three-game series at Illinois State.
While the top half of SIU's lineup chipped away at the five-run INS lead, it was the bottom of the order that put the Dawgs over the top.
SIU fell behind, 5-0, in the top of the first after INS batted around to knock out Saluki starting right-hander Matt Brewer just two-thirds of an inning into the game.
Brewer gave up two hits, including a first-pitch single to Tim Brewer and a two-out, three-RBI triple to Ryan Bond. There was also an error, three walks and a wild pitch that factored into the Sycamores' scoring.
"I told our team after the first half inning not to give up and to keep battling," said Saluki head coach Dan Callahan. "We kept fighting and it paid off in the end."
INS committed a big two-out error in the bottom half of that inning, and Erik Alvarez made the Trees pay with a two-run homer to left. The homer was Alvarez's fifth of the season.
SIU pulled to within one when it came away with a pair of runs when it loaded the bases in the third.
Kevin Koski led off with a single and stole second to get into scoring position. Koski moved to third when Scott Elmendorf grounded out to second and Gerrard followed with a walk. Alvarez came up next and ripped a single to left to knock in Koski, before two more walks pushed across Gerrard.
Josh Abercrombie and Bond started the inning with back-to-back hits and came around to score to push the Sycamores' lead to 7-4.
SIU suddenly caught up with the Trees after scoring one more in the fourth and twice in the sixth.
SIU went without a hit from each of the last five hitters in its lineup for a stretch of five innings before Hunter Harrigan led off with a double in the sixth.
Harrigan went to third on an ensuing sacrifice bunt before Koski walked and stole second to give the Salukis runners on second and third with one out. Elmendorf then grounded out to short and Harrigan scored, before Gerrard tied the game at 7-7 with an RBI-single to right.
The Salukis continued to get runners on base in the next two innings, but came away empty when it stranded a runner at first in the seventh and left the bases loaded in the eighth.
After SIU closer Dusty Baker got Cory Kral to hit into an inning-ending double play with runners on first and second and one out in the ninth, pinch-hitter Chris McCulloch set up the dramatic finish with a leadoff double just inside the right field line.
"I was happy for Chris," said Callahan. "Even though he doesn't get a lot of at-bats, he works extremely hard. It was nice to see him come up with a big hit."
With one away after Nathan Emrick popped up to first on a bunt, Harrigan flied out to right, and McCulloch went to third.
Ahead 1-0 in the count, Lairson belted Brian Omogrosso's second offering into center field to ice the 8-7 thriller. Lairson was 0-for-3 before his first career game-winning hit.
"It's a great feeling to get the game-winning hit," said Lairson, the fifth Saluki to deliver a game-winning hit this year. "I knew Brian (Omogrosso) was coming after me and I just looked for something good to hit."
Baker (6-1) was credited with his team-high sixth win after freshman Cody Adams limited the Sycamores to two hits in 4.2 shutout innings. Only three runners reached base against Adams, who retired11 of 12 INS hitters before giving way to Baker in the ninth.
"I had good movement on my pitches and was happy to get the opportunity to contribute in a game like this," said Adams. "Every league game is getting bigger and bigger down the stretch and this was a huge weekend for us."
Callahan added, "Cody did a great job of keeping us in the game. "His fastball and slider were great and we couldn't have comeback the way we did without him."
SIU's one, three and four-hole hitters consisting of Koski, Gerrard and Alvarez combined for six hits, six runs, five RBI, four walks and four stolen bases.
Koski stole three bases, scored three runs and drew two walks, while Gerrard had three hits, two runs, two RBI and a stolen base. Alvarez, meanwhile, finished with two hits, a run, one walk and three RBI.
McCulloch, Harrigan and Lairson had the three clutch hits at the bottom of the Dawgs' order.
SIU breaks for final exams before hosting Evansville in its final home series on May 12-14.
Notes: Saluki starting second baseman Bret Maugeri left the game in the seventh inning after he was hit in the head with a pitch. He walked off the field on his own power, but did not return.