Daily Egyptian

SIU fails to protect lead in loss to No. 16 Missouri State

Saluki+senior+outfielder+Ryan+Smith+hits+the+ball%2C+bringing+in+the+first+Saluki+run+of+the+game+Friday%2C+May+5%2C+2017%2C+during+the+Salukis%E2%80%99+7-5+loss+to+Missouri+State+at+Itchy+Jones+Stadium.+%28William+Cooley+%7C+%40Wcooley1980%29
Saluki senior outfielder Ryan Smith hits the ball, bringing in the first Saluki run of the game Friday, May 5, 2017, during the Salukis’ 7-5 loss to Missouri State at Itchy Jones Stadium. (William Cooley | @Wcooley1980)

Saluki senior outfielder Ryan Smith hits the ball, bringing in the first Saluki run of the game Friday, May 5, 2017, during the Salukis’ 7-5 loss to Missouri State at Itchy Jones Stadium. (William Cooley | @Wcooley1980)

Saluki senior outfielder Ryan Smith hits the ball, bringing in the first Saluki run of the game Friday, May 5, 2017, during the Salukis’ 7-5 loss to Missouri State at Itchy Jones Stadium. (William Cooley | @Wcooley1980)

By Denton "Gio" Giovenco

The SIU baseball team took a 5-4 lead into the eighth inning, but control issues from the bullpen gave No. 16 Missouri State a late advantage in its 7-5 comeback win over Southern on Friday at Itchy Jones Stadium.

Southern entered Friday night’s game tied with Wichita State for fourth overall in the Missouri Valley Conference standings with a 6-6 conference record. The Missouri State Bears sat in first place with a perfect 11-0 conference record.

The Salukis sent senior starting pitcher Chad Whitmer to the mound in hopes of serving Missouri State its first conference loss of the season.

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Whitmer — named MVC Pitcher of the Week twice this season — turned in a great performance, covering 7.0 innings while allowing four runs on seven hits to go along with one walk and 12 strikeouts.

Friday was the second match-up in which Whitmer has faced a ranked opponent, his first coming on April 22 against No. 26 Tennessee Tech where he tossed 7.1 innings to earn the win. He has also pitched at least 7.0 innings in each of his last four starts.

The Salukis took an early lead in the bottom of the first as junior second baseman Connor Kopach led off with a single up the middle and stole second base to put himself in position to score on senior right fielder Ryan Smith’s single into the right-center gap to make it 1-0 in favor of Southern.

Saluki senior outfielder Ryan Smith charges into Missouri State senior infielder Justin Paulsen at first base Friday, May 5, 2017, during the Salukis’ 7-5 loss to Missouri State at Itchy Jones Stadium. (William Cooley | @Wcooley1980)

The Bears scored all four of their runs against Whitmer early, with two runs in the top of the second and two more in the top of the third to take the lead 4-1 heading into the bottom of the third inning.

Southern struck back in the bottom half of the third, tying the game 4-4 on senior designated hitter Jake Hand’s three-run home run that scored Smith and junior left fielder Greg Lambert, and took the lead 5-4 when junior catcher Nick Hutchins scored on a passed ball.

Whitmer settled in after the third and kept Missouri State scoreless through the seventh inning. Missouri State senior starting pitcher Jordan Knutson also found his footing, keeping Southern from adding to its lead through the sixth while junior relief pitcher Jake Fromson kept it a one-run game by retiring the Salukis in order in the seventh inning.

The Bears took advantage of shaky control from the Salukis’ bullpen, tying the game 5-5 in the top of the eighth on three walks and a fielder’s choice. Missouri State did not record a hit in the inning.

Fromson remained in the game for Missouri State, retiring Southern in order in the bottom of the eighth to keep it all tied up heading into the ninth inning.

Walks again hampered the Saluki bullpen, which issued three in the top of the ninth. One of those walks came around to score to give Missouri State a 6-5 lead. The Bears added another run on a two-out double to take a 7-5 lead heading into the bottom half of the ninth.

From left: Saluki junior infielder Nick Hutchins discusses strategy with assistant coach Ryan Strain and senior infielder Ryan Sabo on Friday, May 5, 2017, during the Salukis’ 7-5 loss to Missouri State at Itchy Jones Stadium. (William Cooley | @Wcooley1980)

Senior closer Bryan Young entered the game for Missouri State and struck out the first two batters he faced in the bottom of the ninth.

Senior center fielder Dyllin Mucha worked a walk from Young to bring the tying run to the plate represented by Kopach, but he failed to make contact and struck out to end the game in a 7-5 loss for Southern.

With the SIU loss, and a win Friday by Wichita State over Dallas Baptist, Southern moves to fifth place in the MVC standings with a 6-7 record. The Salukis also fall below .500 on the season with a 23-24 overall record. Missouri State remains undefeated in conference play at 12-0, and moves its overall record to 31-14 on the season.

Missouri State sophomore infielder Jeremy Eierman walks to the dugout after one of several controversial calls Friday, May 5, 2017, during the Salukis’ 7-5 loss to the Bears at Itchy Jones Stadium. (William Cooley | @Wcooley1980)

Game two of the three-game series is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday at Itchy Jones Stadium. Junior starting pitcher Michael Baird will match up against Missouri State sophomore starting pitcher Dylan Coleman in Saturday’s game.

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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