Dawgs knock off top-seeded Evansville 9-1 in MVC Tournament opener

    Sam Coonrod allowed one run in 7.2 innings and picked up his first win against an MVC opponent this season.

    Sam Coonrod allowed one run in 7.2 innings and picked up his first win against an MVC opponent this season.
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    May 20, 2014

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    Radio Highlights | Post-game interviews

    By Scott Gierman

    TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - Southern Illinois proved that the conference tournament is truly a chance for a fresh start as the eighth-seeded Salukis knocked off regular season champion Evansville 9-1 on the first day of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Tuesday afternoon at Bob Warn Field.

    "We've been in so many games this year, that we're an eighth-place team, but we felt like we could beat anybody," SIU Coach Ken Henderson said. "We knew if we played like we're capable, we could win some games here. Certainly we stepped up today. It was without a doubt our best effort of the year."

    SIU (26-29) touched up MVC Pitcher of the Year Kyle Freeland for four runs and knocked the ace of the Purple Aces (34-20) out of the game after five innings to break his nine-decision winning streak. Meanwhile, Saluki starter Sam Coonrod broke his eight-decision conference losing streak and earned his first victory over an MVC opponent this year.

    After Evansville took a 1-0 lead on Jarod Perry's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the second inning, the Salukis exploded for nine unanswered runs between the fourth and seventh innings to take control of the game.

    Coonrod was not dominant early, but he was impressive in his ability to escape multiple dicey innings and was helped out by SIU's season-high three double plays.

    "Our middle infielders were outstanding for him today, turning a couple double plays early," Henderson said. "Once he got through that and settled in, he was awfully special."

    The junior walked a season-high seven batters but allowed just one run off four hits in seven and two-thirds of an inning. After issuing five walks in the first three innings, including three in the second inning, Coonrod settled in and allowed just five base runners over his remaining four and two-thirds innings. He recorded five strikeouts, including two in the eighth inning.

    "He's kind of a slow starter, but you better get to him before he settles in," Henderson said. "He had great command of his slider from about the third inning on. Once he starts getting that kind of command, his stuff is good."

    SIU took a 2-1 lead with a pair of runs in the top of the fourth thanks to some aggressive base running. Cody Daly led off the inning with a ground ball single up the middle. After a sac bunt, Freeland issued two straight walks to Matt Jones and Parker Osborne to load the bases for Ryan Rosthenhausler. The Saluki third baseman delivered a sac fly to center field to score Daily. Then with runners at the corners and Dyllin Mucha batting, Osborne broke for second base, and Jones scored from third before Osborne was tagged out on the play.

    The Salukis opened up a 4-1 lead in the fifth on Daily's two-out, two-run triple. It came after Jake Welch singled and Ryan Casillas drew a walk. Both came with two outs.

    "To me (Daily's triple) was the key AB of the game to get those two runs," Henderson said. "When it's a 2-1 ballgame, everything is so magnified, and plus it chased Freeland from the game. What a great job by Cody, not trying to do too much and hitting the ball where it's pitched."

    After hitting .254 with runners on base during the regular season, SIU went 7 for 16 with runners on in the game.

    "Like we've been saying all year, our record doesn't show how good we can be," Daily said. "We just need some breaks, and we got a couple big hits today."

    With Freeland out of the game, Southern piled on five runs in the seventh inning. With one out in the inning, Saluki shortstop Jake Welch reached on an error by his counterpart, Shaine Showers. Casillas immediately made the Aces pay with a monster home run over the left field wall. The two-run shot stretched SIU's advantage to 6-1.

    Daily kept the momentum going with a walk followed by Jake Hand's single, which prompted Evansville to remove reliever Brent Jurceka from the game after an inning and a third.

    His replacement, Conor Gilligan didn't fair any better. Gilligan walked Jones to load the bases for Osborne, who delivered a two-run single to left field to make it an 8-1 game. Rosthenhausler followed with a single to reload the bases, and Mucha drew a walk to force in Jones for the fifth run of the inning. The five-run frame matched the Salukis' best output in an inning this season.

    "We had a lot of clutch ABs all day long," Henderson said. "Guys just grinded out ABs and we worked some walks out of it. It was just an all-around great effort from our offense. I'm extremely proud of all our guys."

    In the regular season, SIU hit .135 with the bases loaded. On Tuesday, the Salukis went 2 for 3 with a walk and a sacrifice fly with the bases packed.

    With Coonrod tiring after 117 pitches, Lee Weld entered with two outs and two runners on in the eighth inning and recorded the final four outs of the game without incident. The only batter to reach against him was Eric McKibban who hit a leadoff single in the ninth.

    The Salukis advance to the winner's bracket of the double-elimination tournament where they will face fifth-seeded Illinois State at 3 p.m. on Wednesday. Right-handed senior Todd Eaton will take the hill for SIU against lefty Dylan Craig for the Redbirds.