Baseball advances to MVC title game with 10th inning thriller

    Todd Eaton has finished each of the last three games for SIU, earning the win in extra innings each of the last two days.

    Todd Eaton has finished each of the last three games for SIU, earning the win in extra innings each of the last two days.
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    May 25, 2012

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    By Scott Gierman 

    SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – SIU advanced to the Missouri Valley Conference title game for the first time since 2004 by edging Missouri State 3-2 in 10 innings Thursday night at Hammons Field. With the win, SIU is one win away from its first MVC Tournament Championship and NCAA Tournament berth since 1990.

    It was SIU’s third straight win to start the tournament and the second in a row in extra innings. Thursday’s win came after Southern surrendered the lead with two outs in the ninth. It was another late night for the Salukis as the game was originally scheduled for 7:30 p.m. but was delayed until 9:05 p.m. when Missouri State played a 13-inning game Thursday afternoon to advance to the night game.

    Brian Bajer’s 10th inning sacrifice fly broke a 2-2 tie and brought home Chris Serritella with the winning run. Serritella and Jordan Sivertsen led off the inning with back-to-back walks. It was SIU’s first earned run of the game. The Salukis were able to move the runners over on a double steal as Missouri State catcher Luke Voit was unable to throw effectively to second base while playing with an injury.

    After pitching four and two-thirds innings in relief over the previous two days, Todd Eaton again came out of the bullpen in a tight game and earned his second win in as many days. He entered to get the final out of the eighth inning and finished the game after allowing the tying run in the ninth.

    “It’s never easy getting that last out, and thank goodness for Todd Eaton,” SIU Coach Ken Henderson said. “Everything was down in the zone. He didn’t throw many pitches above the knees.”

    Eaton was originally planning on taking the day off after his two previous clutch outings.

    “We didn’t plan on using him, but he said he felt better than yesterday, and I’m sure there was a little adrenaline going too,” Henderson said. “The one thing we talked about was that we weren’t going to do anything to hurt him.”

    SIU was one out away from a win in the ninth when Keenan Maddox dropped a single into right-center field to score Brent Seifert from second base and tie the game at 2-2.

    “The ball Maddox hit, I threw on the outside corner,” Eaton said. “He just butt-out-hands-out put a barrel on it. It wasn’t an awful pitch, but it wasn’t a great pitch.”

    Seifert reached to start the inning when Austin Montgomery made a nice stop on a hard hit ball to third base but sailed the throw past Chris Serritella at first base. The unearned run was the only run Eaton allowed in his two and a third innings of work

    Missouri State starter Jake Powers had a tremendous outing but took the loss to fall to 2-2 on the year. Powers pitched nine innings before allowing an earned run. In nine and a third innings of work, he surrendered three runs, only one of them earned, off eight hits and struck out five batters.

    The Salukis took a 2-1 lead as they took advantage of a Bears error in the top of the seventh inning. Donny Duschinsky reached on an error to start the inning. He moved to third on a sac bunt and a groundout then came home to score on a wild pitch.

    Duschinsky also reached on an error and crossed the plate in the fifth inning when Tanner Renner’s sacrifice bunt resulted in a run-scoring error. However, after the Salukis sacrificed Renner to second base, MSU center fielder Spiker Helms took away two extra-base hits with two terrific catches to end a potential big inning. Missouri State stifled multiple SIU rallies with an amazing defensive plays.

    “We scored two unearned runs,” Henderson said. “But they stole two runs from us too. Helms made two phenomenal catches. Those can devastate you when you think you have a chance to expand the lead. But somehow we managed to find a way to get enough.”

    MSU’s Maddox tied the game at 1-1 with a home run to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning. It was the Bears first hit of the game.

    “It was an inside fastball, but it wasn’t inside enough,” said SIU starter Sam Coonrod. “I don’t think he barreled it up, but he still hit it out. After he hit that, I was pretty mad, but I settled down after that.”

    It was the only run Coonrod allowed in six innings of work. He took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and matched a career high with seven strikeouts. The freshman allowed just two hits in the outing.

    “Sam Coonrod was phenomenal,” Henderson said. “That was his best outing as a Saluki. He’s an up-and-down guy because he’s young, but today he was huge for us.”

    Matt Murphy replaced Coonrod to start the seventh inning. Murphy got one out and issued a walk before departing in favor of Tyler Dray. Dray’s first pitch got past catcher Brian Bajer but hit the umpire to prevent the runner from advancing. Dray then induced a double play to end the threat.

    Southern has picked a perfect time for a season-best six-game winning streak. Henderson said he is proud of his team after a great program-building win to put it on the brink of an NCAA Tournament appearance.

    “I’m so happy for this group,” Henderson said. “Going back to last year, they’ve been through a lot of adversity. It didn’t always go really well for us this year, but they’ve never quit. They’ve showed up every day and played hard.”

    SIU will call upon its ace to deliver another big win in Saturday’s championship game against Creighton, who also swept through its side of the bracket to earn a day of rest on Friday. The first pitch in the title game is scheduled for 7 p.m. The game will be televised in Southern Illinois on Fox Sports Midwest.