Saluki Baseball throws first combined no-hitter in program history while blanking Austin Peay 10-0

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Jared Treece | @bisalo

The Salukis’ Baseball team huddles after the Salukis 9-1 win over Western Illinois to help extend their undefeated season to eight wins on Tuesday, Mar. 2, 2021 at Itchy Jones Stadium in Carbondale, Ill.

The Saluki Baseball team has finally achieved a feat that had previously never happened in SIU history. A combined no-hitter using four different pitchers was thrown on Feb. 22 against Austin Peay for the first time in program history. It’s also the first no-hitter thrown for the Salukis since 1979, in which Paul Evans pitched only seven innings.

The pitching performance was ruled by newcomers, with three of the four pitchers for the Salukis making their team and division 1 baseball debut. Junior transfer Ben Riffe started and went six innings, handing it off to junior Tanner Lewis in the seventh, followed by junior Jordan Gould in the eighth and junior Kaden Peterson in the ninth to finish it off.

“Just to be able to go out there and pitch that well under those kinds of jitters with it being their first outing was pretty cool to see,” said Coach Lance Rhodes. “I think it shows the potential those four guys have along with the rest of our staff that we have the capability of pitching pretty well this year.”

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Riffe, the starter, said he was playing to the best of his ability.

“Of course the nerves are going to be there. You want to go out and show everyone on the team what you can do. We just want to win as many games as we can. I just wanted to perform as good as I could do,” he said.

Riffe managed to get past the sixth inning before being pulled by Rhodes due to pitch count. However, Riffe said he was confident that he could have gone longer.

“I would have kept going as long as they would have let me. I just go out there until they tell me I’m done to get as many outs as I can to get us in the best position to win the game,” Riffe said.

A lot of the decision-making with pulling Riffe came down to how early in the season it was, the weather, and how much experience Riffe had going deep into pitch counts. Rhodes said he didn’t want to push anything too far and felt confident in his other guys to finish the game off.

“He had around 89 pitches at the time so to send him back out, he would have ended up with well over 100 pitches, which he never did in the preseason. It was a pretty cold night too, so I didn’t really think it was a smart move thinking long term for the season. It would be different if it was in the middle of the season as well as in the eighth inning when he left, but just no reason to push things,” Rhodes said.

With all the change between pitchers in the later innings, there was one constant: their catcher, Zack Jensen.

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Jensen, who is also a newcomer to the 2022 Salukis, said the pitching staff deserves all the praise for such an amazing performance.

“I’ll give all the credit to the pitchers and that staff. They’ve worked so hard all this fall and spring and it showed the other night. Everyone looked extremely sharp there and it was such a great time,” he said.

Jensen knew the situation that was happening before he entered the game but said he kept quiet.

“I was watching all of it from the fourth inning on through the rest of the way. I kept following it quietly. Nobody wanted to mention anything and nobody wanted to jinx anything. I’m not even sure if most guys knew what was going on because there were guys on base all night,” Jensen said.

But the performance did not go without its fair share of scares of ruining the no-hitter opportunity and letting a run go. Three different errors occurred throughout the game, five different batters got walked, and even a bases-loaded top of the ninth occurred. It was Jensen’s job to keep his pitchers in the game no matter who was on the mound. Jensen said he did whatever he could to keep his pitchers in the zone.

“I just told them to stay calm whenever something happened and do what they did all fall: Throw some strikes and have some fun with it,” Jensen said.

Something that may have contributed to the performance of the Saluki pitchers, was the circumstances of the game. Originally, it was going to be played in Clarksville Tennessee, where the Governors reside, but due to some weather conditions, both teams agreed to move the game to Carbondale at the last minute.

“Any time you get an opportunity to play at home, it’s a big advantage, Rhoades said.” Making up games in baseball is just hard so most teams are pretty flexible with things like this. It was great to continue the flow of playing multiple games every week so we’re really glad they were willing to switch it up and come here.”

This type of performance could be seen by many to be a “statement” by the Saluki pitching staff as to how the rest of the year will go, but Rhodes said he doesn’t necessarily think of it that way.

“To me it was mostly one of those things where every guy on the mound was taking control in the short amount of time they were out there and it just happened to be a no hitter by the end of the night. I don’t think anybody planned to do it or tried to do it, but we executed a lot of good pitches and got that type of result,” he said.

The Salukis will look to keep their pitching staff performing this well as the season progresses. They’ll play their first weekend homestand at Itchy Jones Stadium this weekend from the 26 of this month through the first of March followed by another road trip the following weekend over at Little Rock Arkansas against the Trojans.

Sports reporter Joseph Bernard can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @Jojobernard2001. To stay up to date on all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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