Salukis fall to Illini in weekday match-up


Junior infielder Logan Blackfan looks at the stadium lights after they went out and caused a delay Tuesday, May 2, 2017, at Itchy Jones Stadium. The University of Illinois beat SIU 6-5. (Branda Mitchell | @branda_mitchell)

By Denton "Gio" Giovenco

The SIU baseball team lost an up-and-down battle to the University of Illinois 6-5 Tuesday night at Itchy Jones Stadium.

Junior pitcher Jamison Steege toed the rubber Tuesday night for his second career start as a Saluki. His first start came April 25 against SEMO where he recovered from early trouble to finish 5.0 innings, allowing three runs on four hits while striking out four and walking none.

Southern jumped on the board in the top of the first when senior right fielder Ryan Smith reached on a double down the left field line and came around to score on junior first baseman Logan Blackfan’s single to shallow right field for a 1-0 Saluki lead.


Illinois (19-23) grabbed the lead in the top of the second, scoring two runs against Steege on a trio of hits to move ahead of the Salukis 2-1.

Senior center fielder Dyllin Mucha tied it up 2-2 in the bottom of the third inning, launching a 2-0 pitch deep over the right field fence for the first home run of his collegiate career.

Illinois reclaimed the lead 3-2 in the top of the fourth after scoring a run on a pair of singles and a stolen base against Steege.

Illinois senior outfielder Anthony Drago and sophomore outfielder Doran Turchin play hacky sack during a power outage Tuesday, May 2, 2017, at Itchy Jones Stadium. U of I beat the Salukis 6-5. (Branda Mitchell | @branda_mitchell)

The fourth inning was Steege’s last in Tuesday’s game, finishing with 4.0 innings while allowing three runs on six hits, walking two and striking out two batters.

“I thought Steege did alright,” coach Ken Henderson said. “He got behind some guys and that’s what got him in trouble, but he didn’t get banged around when he was ahead.”

The Salukis tied the game for the second time Tuesday in the bottom of the fourth, as junior catcher Nick Hutchins reached on a walk, stole second base and advanced to third on a balk by Illinois’ pitcher before scoring on senior shortstop Will Farmer’s hot-shot single off the diving third baseman’s glove to make it a 3-3 game.

Senior pitcher Austin McPheron entered the game in the top of the fifth inning in relief of Steege. The Fighting Illini scraped together two runs on three hits to take the lead 5-3 before McPheron closed out his one inning of work with back-to-back strikeouts.


Senior pitcher Anthony Shimkus took the mound in the top of the sixth inning in relief of McPheron. He tossed a scoreless sixth inning before running into trouble with one out in the top of the seventh, allowing two runners to reach base on a single and a walk, leading to his removal in favor of senior pitcher Jacob Williams.

Junior infielder Connor Kopach waits for the stadium lights to come back on after they went out in the bottom of the fourth inning during the Salukis’ 6-5 loss to the University of Illinois on Tuesday, May 2, 2017, at Itchy Jones Stadium. (Branda Mitchell | @branda_mitchell)

Williams closed out the top of the seventh with a strikeout and a ground out, but not before one inherited runner scored on a past ball, adding to the Fighting Illini’s lead 6-3.

Freshman pitcher Brad Harrison entered the game with one out in the top of the eighth in relief of Williams, finishing Williams’ day after 1.0 inning, seeing one inherited runner score (unearned) on one hit and no walks while striking out two batters.

Harrison closed out the top of the eighth with back-to-back strikeouts to combine with Williams — who struck out the first batter of the inning — to strike out the side and keep it a 6-3 game in favor of Illinois.

Southern returned to the scoreboard in the bottom half of the eighth inning after junior second baseman Connor Kopach led off the inning with a single and stole second and third base before scoring on junior left fielder Greg Lambert’s double to the left-center gap. Lambert scored on senior designated hitter Jake Hand’s single up the middle to cut Illinois’ lead to one run at 6-5.

Harrison retired the side in order in the top of the ninth inning, finishing his day with 1.2 scoreless and hitless innings, walking none and striking out three to keep Southern within striking distance going into the bottom half of the inning.

“The best he’s been all year by far,” Henderson said. “That’s the guy we thought he was gonna be all year, and the guy he’s gonna be. He was pitching with confidence and that’s a great sign.”

Junior pitcher Jamison Steege throws from the mound during the first inning against University of Illinois on Tuesday, May 2, 2017, at Itchy Jones Stadium. The Salukis lost the game 6-5. (Branda Mitchell | @branda_mitchell)

The Salukis placed the tying run in scoring position with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when Mucha singled through the left side and advanced to second base on a wild pitch. But Kopach failed to drive Mucha in, grounding out to Illinois’ shortstop for the third out of the inning, ending the game in a 6-5 Fighting Illini win.

“I’m not disappointed in our guys at all,” Henderson said. “I thought we competed and battled hard, it’s just a good baseball game and we got beat. Both teams played well … sometimes you just get beat.”

Three Saluki hitters recorded multiple hits in Tuesday night’s game. Smith and Lambert both went 2-for-3 with a double, one run and one walk. Smith added a stolen base while Lambert claimed one RBI.

Senior third baseman Ryan Sabo looks at his teammates in the dugout after a power outage delayed the game Tuesday, May 2, 2017, at Itchy Jones Stadium. The Salukis fell to the University of Illinois 6-5. (Branda Mitchell | @branda_mitchell)

Mucha went 2-for-4 with one run and one RBI on his first career collegiate home run.

“I didn’t realize that was his first one,” Henderson said. “I’m more proud of his at-bat in the ninth than his home run to be honest. With two outs and two strikes and go up there and keep battling … gets a base hit and ends up being the tying run on second base. To me that was his best at-bat of the night.”

Kopach, who was fifth overall in Division I NCAA baseball in steals prior to Tuesday night’s game, added his 27th and 28th steal of the season in the bottom of the eighth inning.

“We need to turn the page now, come out and have a few good days of practice and get ready for Friday night,” Henderson said.

SIU (23-23, 6-6 MVC) will host MVC-leading Missouri State (30-14, 11-0 MVC) this weekend at Itchy Jones Stadium for a three-game conference series. The first game of the series is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Friday. Senior starting pitcher Chad Whitmer will take the mound for the Salukis in game one.

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

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