Daily Egyptian

Saluki baseball wins series against Valparaiso

By Nathan Dodd, Sports Editor

A game that appeared to be a briskly played pitcher’s duel at Itchy Jones Stadium between the SIU baseball team and the Valparaiso Crusaders (9-18, 2-4 MVC) quickly erupted into a slugfest in the fifth inning.

Through the first 4.5 innings, no runs had been recorded and the Salukis and Crusaders only collected three hits each. However, Southern’s offense delighted the home crowd by erupting for seven runs in the fifth inning.

“All of a sudden we got a couple big AB’s and our plate discipline really showed there,” head coach Ken Henderson said. “We were just able to get the right guys up at the right time and they came through and executed.”

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With a leadoff double by senior designated hitter Drew Curtis, a throwing error and a hit batter, Southern loaded the bases. Then, freshman third baseman Grey Epps recorded his seventh RBI of the season with a walk for a 1-0 lead.

SIU tacked on another run with an RBI single by freshman center fielder Brad Hudson that kept the bases loaded with no outs, forcing Valpo senior starter Wes Gordon (0-4) from the contest.

Gordon ended the day with four innings pitched and allowed five runs — four earned — with a walk and three strikeouts.

Senior reliever Hayden Kissee came in for relief duty for the Crusaders and surrendered a sacrifice fly to junior second baseman Nikola Vasic, pushing SIU’s lead to 3-0. When another walk once again loaded the bases, senior shortstop Connor Kopach plated two more with a single to left field. Kopach finished with one hit, one run and an RBI.

Valpo was forced to make a move the bullpen, calling on sophomore pitcher Jarrett Hammel. Blackfan immediately drove in Southern’s sixth run of the inning with a single and pushed Kopach to third. Then, Curtis — who went 2-4 with a run and an RBI — copied Blackfan with an RBI single of his own for a 7-0 lead.

Once again, the Crusaders turned to the pen and selected senior Alex Dirienzo to try and stop the bleeding. After a walk to his first batter loaded the bases, Dirienzo forced a double play that ended the inning.

Corrin Hunt
Southern Illinois freshman infielder Grey Epps (5) raises his glove after a play at third base, Saturday, April 7, 2018, during the Valparaiso University Crusaders 6-2 victory against the Southern Illinois Salukis at Itchy Jones Stadium. (Corrin Hunt | @CorrinIHunt)

After 106 pitches through seven innings of work, SIU sophomore starting pitcher Brad Harrison’s day came to an end. Harrison allowed only four hits and two walks through his seven scoreless innings. He also struck out 11 in his fourth victory of the season.

“Every single one of my pitches felt really good today,” Harrison said. “Even though I gave up a couple hits, I felt like I was in control for most of the time. I was just able to go after guys and not worry about guys on base.”

Held scoreless through the next two innings, Southern added to its lead in the eighth. With a single by junior right fielder Kenton Crawford and a passed ball, Hudson drove in his second run of the game with a single to right field for an 8-0 lead.

Hudson finished the game 3-4 with one run scored and two RBI out of the ninth spot in the lineup.

“For those guys at the bottom to produce, obviously, was a big part of our success today,” Henderson said. “Really proud of those guys and we needed those guys to step up.”

Following Harrison’s departure from the game, freshman reliever Trey McDaniel posted scoreless eighth and ninth innings, allowing one hit, two walks and two strikeouts.

The 8-0 victory clinched the series win for Southern, the second straight to begin Missouri Valley Conference play.

“In this league, every series is big,” Henderson said. “One of our goals is to win series. To take care of that and achieve our goals the first two weekends is a good start.”

The Salukis (17-14, 4-2 MVC) are back in action on Tuesday for a non-conference battle with Eastern Illinois in Carbondale. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m.

In that matchup, the Salukis may see the return of junior outfielder Alex Lyon to the lineup after he tweaked his hamstring on Friday.

“I don’t know if we’ll play him Tuesday, we’ll see,” Henderson said. “Probably could have played today, it just wasn’t worth it. Tuesday may be a question mark but I think by Friday, no doubt, he’ll be ready to go.”

Sports editor Nathan Dodd can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @NathanMDodd.

To stay up to date with all your SIU sports news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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