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A grand day at the ballpark for the Salukis as they slam Western Illinois to clinch home-opener series

Salukis+pitcher+Michael+Baird+throws+from+the+mound+Saturday%2C+March+4%2C+2017%2C+during+a+game+against+Western+Illinois+University+Leathernecks+in+Itchy+Jones+Stadium.+The+Salukis+beat+the+Leathernecks+12-2.+%28Bill+Lukitsch+%7C+%40lukitsbill%29%0A
Salukis pitcher Michael Baird throws from the mound Saturday, March 4, 2017, during a game against Western Illinois University Leathernecks in Itchy Jones Stadium. The Salukis beat the Leathernecks 12-2. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

Salukis pitcher Michael Baird throws from the mound Saturday, March 4, 2017, during a game against Western Illinois University Leathernecks in Itchy Jones Stadium. The Salukis beat the Leathernecks 12-2. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

Salukis pitcher Michael Baird throws from the mound Saturday, March 4, 2017, during a game against Western Illinois University Leathernecks in Itchy Jones Stadium. The Salukis beat the Leathernecks 12-2. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

By Denton "Gio" Giovenco

The Salukis’ bats were alive Saturday at Itchy Jones Stadium as SIU scored twelve runs on twelve hits — including three home runs — to take the second game of the home-opener series against Western Illinois 12-2.

Junior DH Hunter Anderson was the first Saluki to put the ball over the fence with his home run to lead off the bottom of the second inning for a 2-0 SIU lead.

Western Illinois knotted the score at 2-2 in the top of the third inning as two unearned runs crossed the plate.

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It didn’t take long for SIU (6-4) to retake the lead, as senior right fielder Jake Hand connected with the second pitch he saw for a grand slam over the left field fence to secure a 6-2 Saluki lead.

“I knew what I was getting, you know, both pitches,” Hand said. “I even took the first one and it was the pitch that I was looking for — just not the right spot. Once he threw that pitch that I was looking for in that spot, I was ready for it.”

This was Hand’s second grand slam of the season, after an inside-the-park grand slam against Stetson earlier this year.

The Salukis tacked on three more runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, and another three runs in the bottom of the sixth.

Senior infielder Ryan Sabo slides back to first base Saturday, March 4, 2017, as Western Illinois University Leathernecks senior infielder Conner Currier attempts to get him out. The Salukis beat the Leathernecks 12-2 at Itchy Jones Stadium. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

One of those runs in the bottom of the sixth was a towering solo home run over the right field fence off the bat of junior first baseman Logan Blackfan.

Altogether, eight of the nine Saluki starters logged a hit in Saturday’s game.

“We got some power up and down the lineup,” coach Ken Henderson said. “And as we get going and get further into the season, I think it will get even more difficult for other teams to … pitch around people because we got good hitters up and down that lineup.”

Henderson also took notice of the play of Saluki leadoff hitter junior second baseman Connor Kopach, who went 3 for 4 with three runs scored and one walk to go along with a stolen base Saturday.

“One key too is Connor Kopach getting on base,” Henderson said. “When he does that we are gonna score a lot of runs.”

To go along with the Salukis’ explosive offense Saturday, junior starting pitcher Michael Baird tossed another superb game.

Junior pitcher Ryan Netemeyer, left, and freshman infielder Chuck Fleming, right, high-five fellow players Saturday, March 4, 2017, as they return to the bullpen. The Salukis beat the Western Illinois University Leathernecks 12-2 at Itchy Jones Stadium. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

Baird (3-0) covered seven innings, scattering six hits to go along with two unearned runs while issuing zero walks and striking out a season-high seven batters.

With Saturday’s outing, Baird has now tossed 20 ⅔ innings to begin the season without allowing an earned run.

When asked about the pressure that comes with keeping up such perfect numbers, Baird reminisced about something he said his dad used to tell him when he was younger: “You got to want the pressure, because if you’re having pressure that means you’re doing something right.’”

Hand also shared some insight on the pressures the team is feeling this year, based on the Salukis being ranked second in the Missouri Valley Conference’s preseason poll.

“That isn’t what put the pressure on us,” Hand said. “It’s us knowing that we should be first. The only pressure that we feel is the fact that we know how good we should be … and how good we can be.”

The Salukis gets another chance to prove how good they can be Sunday, as they look to sweep their home-opener series against Western Illinois at Itchy Jones Stadium.

First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. Senior starting pitcher Joey Marciano will take the mound for the Salukis for the first time since feeling discomfort in his arm during his start against Stetson on February 19.

Sports writer Denton “Gio” Giovenco can be reached at dgiovenco@dailyegyptian.com or on Twitter @DentonGiovenco.

To stay up to date with all your SIU sports news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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