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Saluki baseball defeats Evansville in walk-off fashion

Gamecock+junior+infielder+Taylor+Hawthorne+attempts+to+slide+back+to+safety+Friday%2C+March+24%2C+2017%2C+as+Saluki+senior+infielder+Ryan+Sabo+holds+the+ball+at+third+base.+The+umpire+called+Hawthorne+out.+Jacksonville+State+went+on+to+beat+SIU+8-6+during+the+first+of+a+three-game+series+at+Itchy+Jones+Stadium.+%28Bill+Lukitsch+%7C+%40lukitsbill%29
Gamecock junior infielder Taylor Hawthorne attempts to slide back to safety Friday, March 24, 2017, as Saluki senior infielder Ryan Sabo holds the ball at third base. The umpire called Hawthorne out. Jacksonville State went on to beat SIU 8-6 during the first of a three-game series at Itchy Jones Stadium. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

Gamecock junior infielder Taylor Hawthorne attempts to slide back to safety Friday, March 24, 2017, as Saluki senior infielder Ryan Sabo holds the ball at third base. The umpire called Hawthorne out. Jacksonville State went on to beat SIU 8-6 during the first of a three-game series at Itchy Jones Stadium. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

Gamecock junior infielder Taylor Hawthorne attempts to slide back to safety Friday, March 24, 2017, as Saluki senior infielder Ryan Sabo holds the ball at third base. The umpire called Hawthorne out. Jacksonville State went on to beat SIU 8-6 during the first of a three-game series at Itchy Jones Stadium. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

By Denton "Gio" Giovenco

SIU baseball claimed its second win in as many days Saturday thanks to a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to best Evansville 5-2.

The game had a similar feel to Friday night’s game in the early innings, with a pitcher’s duel once again stifling hitters on both teams.

The Salukis (14-14, 2-0 MVC) put the first run of the game on the board in the bottom of the fifth, when Evansville’s senior starting pitcher Connor Strain began to lose control of his pitches.

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Junior second baseman Connor Kopach took a four-pitch walk to lead off the inning. He stole second base, and advanced to third on senior center fielder Ryan Smith’s ground out. Kopach came across to score on a wild pitch to make it a 1-0 Saluki lead.

Southern manufactured another run in the bottom of the seventh, again with the help of Kopach’s base running prowess.

Kopach reached on a fielder’s choice, and stole second base — for his second steal of the game — to put himself in scoring position. With two outs in the inning, junior left fielder Greg Lambert sent a 3-2 pitch straight up in the air in front of the plate. Kopach was running hard at the crack of the bat, and crossed the plate just as Evansville’s catcher dropped the pop fly in fair territory to add to SIU’s lead 2-0.

While the Saluki hitters were scratching out runs where they could, junior ace starting pitcher Michael Baird was pitching a gem for Southern.

Baird made it through the first eight innings of the game, allowing no runs while scattering four hits and walking none. He also tied his season-high with seven strikeouts in the game.

In the top of the ninth, Baird came in to try for the complete game shutout, but was pulled after walking the first two batters of the inning.

Those walks came around to score (charged to Baird for a final line of 8.0 innings, two runs on four hits, two walks and seven strikeouts) tying the game 2-2 in the top of the ninth.

Southern battled right back in the bottom of the ninth, when senior shortstop Will Farmer led off with single to center field to put the winning run on base.

In the next at bat, senior third baseman Ryan Sabo advanced Farmer to second with a sac bunt. Kopach was hit by a pitch following Sabo’s at bat, to put runners at first and second with no one out. Smith fouled out to Evansville’s first baseman, to bring Lambert up to bat.

Lambert took the first three pitches he saw to work the count to 3-0. Coach Ken Henderson decided to give Lambert “the green-light” to swing away at the next pitch.

Lambert did just that, connecting with a fastball down the heart of the plate and sending it over the wall in left-center field for a three-run walk-off home run.

“I have all the trust in the world in Greg Lambert there,” Henderson said. “That’s why he hits in the three-hole, and that’s why I continue to put him in the three-hole. He can flat-out hit.”

Southern looks to sweep the conference series against Evansville at 1 p.m. Sunday. Senior pitcher Joey Marciano will start for the Salukis in the final game of the conference series.

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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