Hansell, Rodriguez help Salukis open Valley schedule with series win over Bradley

By Brandyn Wilcoxen, Staff Reporter

Southern Illinois hit the 20-win mark this weekend, advancing to 20-8 overall after taking two out of three against the Bradley Braves (8-14). The series was the first of Missouri Valley Conference play in the 2022 season.

Friday night’s opener saw starting pitcher Mike Hansell improve to 5-1, as he and Matthew Steidl combined to pitch a six-hit shutout.

Although Bradley ace Jacob Kisting held SIU to just three hits, one of them was a go-ahead solo home run to Ryan Rodriguez in the third. The Salukis would add one more to that lead, taking the first game 2-0.

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The win was the first this season where Southern Illinois scored less than two runs.

Rodriguez came through for the Salukis again on Saturday, tallying three hits and ending the game with a ground ball that would be scored a walk-off error on the Bradley shortstop that gave SIU a 6-5 victory in the bottom of the 9th.

Southern had been clinging onto a tight one-run lead in the top of the 7th, as head coach Lance Rhodes called upon closer Trey McDaniel to record an eight-out save. McDaniel would strike out the final two batters of the inning on seven pitches, and finish the 8th with just one hit allowed.

Entering the top of the 9th leading 4-3, McDaniel allowed a single and a walk to put the tying and go-ahead runs on base. Both would score unearned, following a sacrifice bunt, a passed ball, and a sacrifice fly.

Rodriguez’s walk-off was set up by an error on the Braves center fielder that put the tying and winning Saluki runs in scoring position. It’s the second time Rodriguez has walked off a game this season, following his home run in the bottom of the 10th against Illinois thirteen days earlier.

Bradley would avoid a sweep on Sunday, riding a four-run 7th and a two-run 8th to a 9-5 victory.

Kaeber Rog’s hitting streak reached double-digits this weekend, currently standing at 11. The Curacao native is slashing .403/.430/.685 through the first half of the season. He leads the team in doubles with 14, and RBIs with 31.

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J.T. Weber continues to chase history, adding two home runs to his total. He stands at 30 for his career, tied for third in Saluki history with Chris Serritella, and six away from the school record. Weber’s 13 home runs this season is tied for ninth in school history, four away from tying Nick Neville’s record-breaking 2021 campaign.

Weber isn’t just good for home runs. He leads the team – and is near the top of Division I baseball – in most offensive categories. His .416/.496/.823 slash line would land him with the SIU season record for slugging percentage (min. 100 at-bats) and the fifth-best batting average. While there is still another half of a season to play, Weber is on an historic pace offensively.

On the pitching side, Hansell and Noah Farmer have combined for an 8-1 start, each tossing more than 30 innings through the first 28 games. Both have ERAs in the top 5 in the Valley among qualified pitchers.

Southern Illinois wrapped up an 11-game homestand, part of a stretch where it played 15 of its last 17 games at Itchy Jones Stadium. It finished 8-3 during the homestand.

The Salukis (20-8) will hit the road against future Valley opponent Murray State (15-11) on Tuesday. They will then visit current Valley opponent Evansville (13-14) for a weekend series.

Staff reporter Brandyn Wilcoxen can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Brandyn_2020

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