Saluki baseball opens Abe on Tuesday

By Gus Bode

The SIU baseball team will now get a crack at Tennessee-Martin in the Salukis’ territory.

SIU welcomes the Skyhawks to Abe Martin Field Tuesday for a 2 p.m. game, one week after the Salukis lost 6-5 at Tennessee-Martin. SIU ended a six-game losing streak Sunday against Iowa, and afterward on the phone senior catcher Mark Kelly said it would be good for the team to return to its comfort zone at home.

‘It was nice to get a win before that just to kind of get our heads up high so now we can roll into that instead of kind of backing into a home stand,’ Kelly said in the phone interview.

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In the Salukis’ loss at Tennessee-Martin on Feb. 24, SIU squandered a four-run lead and the Skyhawks tallied four earned runs against the Salukis’ relief pitchers, including the tying run and game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning.

SIU had gotten runners on second and third base with no outs in the top of the ninth inning, but failed to tie the game or take the lead.

‘We have to execute a little better,’ associate head coach Ken Henderson said. ‘We have to do what we’re capable of doing and it wasn’t anything that they did last week, it was our inability to execute quality pitches and execute on offense. So if we do that and do what we’re capable of doing, then everything will be fine.’

Of the Salukis’ six losses in a row, four were charged to relief pitchers. But when SIU (2-6) ended its six-game losing streak with an 8-3 win over Iowa on Sunday, its bullpen did not allow the Hawkeyes to score a single run in the final four innings.

One of those four losses given to relievers was from senior right-hander David Kington, who returned to SIU for the Bright House Invitational in Deland, Fla., last weekend.

SIU and Kington lost on an error Friday by senior second baseman Scott Elmendorf against South Alabama with two outs, and the Jaguars scored the walk-off run on the play, and the run to Kington was scored as an unearned run.

Henderson had said before the tournament that Kington would give the Saluki bullpen a boost, and in Kington’s appearance Sunday he threw a scoreless inning and struck out a batter.

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‘He had two appearances down there, he was very good in both of them,’ Henderson said. ‘We also put Dunn in the bullpen down there and even though he had the bad inning against Stetson, he was also very, very good for two innings.’

SIU’s offense has not struggled, as the Salukis rank fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference with a .295 team batting average. SIU leads the conference with 84 hits, six home runs and 121 total bases, and ranks third in runs scored, with 47.

Junior shortstop Michael Stalter, a transfer from Heartland Community College, leads the Valley with three home runs and 10 runs scored, and his .750 slugging percentage ranks third.

Stalter is also hitting .313 so far this season.

‘He’s huge, but it’s not a surprise,’ Henderson said. ‘I mean we were counting and we hit him in the three-hole from day one, and we knew he was going to add a little bit of power to our lineup. He’s just got that kind of bat speed, and he’s a very competitive kid and he relishes that role. We knew when we signed him last summer that he was a guy who was going to add some offense, add some decent offensive numbers to our lineup. So it’s huge, but again it’s no surprise.’

Sophomore pitcher Daniel Etienne was given the start for the Salukis in their game at Tennessee-Martin on Feb. 23, but senior right-handed pitcher Andrew Dunn (0-2, 9.00 ERA) will be given the nod today against the Skyhawks, while Kington will start Wednesday against Eastern Illinois, but pitching coach Tim Dixon said that could change.

Dunn started on Feb. 21 against Coastal Carolina, a game the Salukis lost 16-3. Dunn pitched 4.2 innings, allowing 12 hits and nine runs, three of which were earned. He also struck out three batters.

Dixon said in a phone interview Dunn pitched well Saturday against Stetson before he began leaving pitches up in the zone and gave up three earned runs over two innings, so he has to keep the ball down against the Skyhawks.

‘He’s a contact guy, so he’s got to throw strikes down in the zone,’ Dixon said in a phone interview.

Dixon said he would be hoping for five or six innings out of Dunn, and then have him ready to come out of the bullpen in the weekend series against Northern Illinois.

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