By: John Lockwood
If this week’s Missouri Valley Conference games were any sign of things to come, then this promises to be one exciting season. The match-up of #1 vs. #2 in the MVC took place in Bloomington, IL, as Creighton (22-7, 2-1) ended up taking two of three from Illinois State (21-9, 1-2) with a dramatic finish in Sunday’s finale. Missouri State (19-11, 2-1) battled with last year’s regular season co-champions Wichita State (21-13, 1-2), taking two of three in a series where no game was decided by more than two runs. Southern Illinois (11-19, 3-0)—who entered the weekend with the Valley’s worst record—surprised the entire conference by taking all three on the road from a potent Evansville (17-12, 0-3) team. And in Terre Haute, the Indiana State Sycamores (19-11, 2-1) posted wins in Friday’s and Saturday’s games before dropping the finale to Bradley (19-11, 1-2) on Sunday.
Since outstanding pitching performances were the theme of this weekend (honorable mention: WSU’s Charlie Lowell and ISU’s Dan Savas), this week’s awards go to two pitchers.
CBD Missouri Valley Conference Players of the Week:
MSU – Fr. RHP Nick Petree, W (4-0); 8 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, BB, 11 K
SIU – Jr. RHP Cameron Maldonado, W (3-4); 8.1 IP, 8 H, 0 ER, BB, 8 K
Creighton at Illinois State: Creighton Wins Series 2-1
The most anticipated of this weekend’s series was the 1-2 matchup of Creighton at Illinois State. The series lived up to its billing with the Jays coming back to win the series after dropping Friday’s game, which the Redbirds won 5-4. Creighton jumped out to an early 2-0 thanks to a two-run homerun by right-fielder, and all around offensive star, Trever Adams. The Redbirds scored their first run in the bottom of the third on an RBI from RF David Fallon. Redbird starter Corey Maines settled down after the first, but was not helped by questionable defense in the form of four Redbirds errors which resulted in two unearned runs. Maines ended up going seven innings surrendering only two earned runs on five hits and two walks, while striking out nine. With the score 4-1, ISU first-baseman Zach Amrein doubled home third-baseman Ryan Court and left fielder Tyler McNeely to cut the lead to one. The very next inning, with runners on third and second, Ryan Court singled to put both the tying run and go-ahead runs across. Redbirds reliever Jay Wielebnicki pitched two scoreless innings to pick up his first save of the season.
With the exception of game two, this was a very tightly contested series. That’s because in game two the duo of starter Jonas Durfek and reliever Kurt Spomer shut-down the Redbirds, winning by a final score of 8-2. Dufek allowed just two runs on four hits—dolling out five free-passes—and fanning nine. Spomer was perfect over the final 2.2 innings, posting three Ks. Offensively, Adams continued to be hot going 3-5 with a triple and 5 RBI.
The rubber match of the series was again a close contest, with Creighton coming out on top 6-5. The Redbirds struck first in the bottom of the first, scoring two runs on an RBI single by catcher Matt Mirabal. The Jays responded in the top of the inning, taking advantage of starter Ryan Camp’s control issues to score three runs. Camp only last an inning and a third before freshman Dan Savas came in to get the Redbirds out of the jam. Savas was nearly unhittable for the rest of the game, giving up only one unearned run on four hits and two walks in six and two thirds and striking out a career-high 12 batters.
Creighton added another run on an Anthony Bemboom sacrifice fly which scored third baseman Alex Staehely.
Unfortunately for the Rebirds, they could not get much going against the starter Greg Hellhake after their first inning outburst. ISU chased Hellhake from the game in the sixth, loading the bases, but unable to get a run across. With Savas out of the game, the Jays were able to add two more in the ninth. In the bottom, however, the Redbirds staged a late comeback against the Creighton bullpen. After two quick outs, last year’s Joe Carter Player of the Year Kevin Tokarski hit a solo homerun to pull ISU within three. A triple by Fallon and two doubles by Tyler McNeely and Ryan Court later, the Redbirds were back within one. However, with a full count on the catcher Mirabal, the batter swung at the offering from Kurt Spomer. From the bounce the ball took after the swing, it appeared to make contact with the bat (or perhaps Mirabal himself), but the umpire called it a dropped third strike nonetheless and the Jays’ catcher made the game-ending throw to first.
In all, this series lived up to its hype and produced some very exciting baseball—a good omen to start off the MVC season. Coming up, Creighton plays Kansas State at home on Tuesday at 3:00 pm, while ISU looks to rebound against during a mid-week matchup at home against Northern Illinois.
CU – Sr. RF Trever Adams, 5-14, HR, 3B, 7 RBI, R
ISU – Fr. RHP Dan Savas, 6.2 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 12 Ks
Wichita State at Missouri State: MSU Wins 2-1
In Friday’s opener, Wichita State ran into a force of nature in the shape of Missouri State starter Nick Petree, who led the Bears to an 8-6 win in a game one that was not as close as the score indicated. Petree tossed eight innings, giving up two runs on seven hits, while walking one and striking out 11. Bears centerfielder Aaron Conway scored the first run of the game after hitting a leadoff triple and being singled home by second baseman Kevin Medrano who continued his career hot streak against Shockers pitching. Freshman Patrick Drake and Conway hit back-to-back doubles to extend the lead to 4-0 in the seventh. One run later, Medrano tripled and scored on an error before Brent Seifert hit a solo shot to make the score 8-0. The Shockers on the other hand, couldn’t get anything going against Petree until it was too late. Chris O’Brien—who far and away had the best day of any hitter going 4-5 with two doubles—hit a three-run homerun to make the score 8-6 in the ninth, but DH Preston Springer flew-out in the next at bat to end the game.
Wichita State’s Charlie Lowell must have been taking notes from Nick Petree in game one, because he one-uped the Bears’ starter on Saturday, striking out thirteen en route to a 3-1 game two win. The game was a pitcher’s duel through the first seven innings, with each team being held scoreless. Missouri State’s Gordon Grant ran into trouble in the eighth when he gave up three straight hits to O’Brien, Springer and Shocker first baseman Johnny Coy. Don Lambert tripled after reliever Dan Kickham came into the game, to add two more runs to the score. But Lowell was the star of the game, going eight innings, and allowing just one run on three hits and two free passes, while fanning thirteen. Cale Elam picked up his first save of the season.
Like their MVC regular season co-champions of last year, the Shockers would lose the rubber match of the series by one run, giving up a pinch-hit three-run homer in the seventh to allow the Bears to come back and win the finale 8-7. With the score tied at 4-4 in the fifth, Shockers right-fielder Ryan Hege capped off a three run inning with a two-run homer to give WSU a 7-4 lead. The score would remain the same until the bottom of the seventh, when Juco-transfer Spiker Helms knocked a one-out double to right center scoring Aaron Conway. After Shockers starter Brian Flynn walked Brent Seifert, coach Stephenson called on freshman LHP Aaron LeBrie to get out of the inning. Coach Guttin countered by calling on pinch hitter Luke Voit, and was rewarded for his tactics as Voit proceeded to hit a go-ahead three-run homer over the left-field fence. Bears sophomore Pierce Johnson threw a scoreless eighth, and MSU closer Kickham pitched the ninth to pick up his ninth save of the season.
By taking two against last year’s co-champions, Missouri State has fired the proverbial warning shot across the bow of the Missouri Valley Conference, showing that they are reloaded with talent and can crush the ball on some of the most talented pitchers in the league.
WSU – Jr. C Chris O’Brien, 8-15, HR, 3 2B, 4 RBI, 3 R
Jr. LHP Charlie Lowell, W (5-4); 8 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 13 K
MSU – Jr. 2B Kevin Medrano, 5-12, 2B, 3B, 2 RBI, 2 R
Fr. RHP Nick Petree, W (4-0); 8 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, BB, 11 K
Southern Illinois at Evansville: Salukis Sweep Purple Aces
As I said, perhaps the biggest surprise this weekend comes out of Evansville, where the Southern Illinois Salukis took all three on the road from a hard-hitting Purple Aces team. Credit to junior RHP Cameron Maldonado (3-4) for setting the tone in game one, notching a career-high in strikeouts with eight in 8.1 innings, as SIU shut-down Evansville 5-1. SIU scored three in the sixth inning thanks in part to sophomore Nick Johnson’s two-run homerun. This would prove to be more than enough for Maldonado, whose only (unearned) run allowed came via a two-base error to start the bottom of the ninth.
Game two was of the same ilk, as this time it was sophomore lefty Cody Forsythe who took his turn shutting down the Purple Aces from the mound. The Salukis went on to win 8-4 and clinch the series. Forsythe (3-3) went seven innings, scattering eight hits and walk while only allowing one run to score. SIU scored the first seven runs of the game, thanks to left fielder Jordan Siversten, who went 2-3 on the day with a two-run homerun and three runs batted in, and third baseman Blake Pinnon who scored two and knocked-in two on 2-3 day as well.
In Sunday’s series finale, the Salukis again scored first, tallying three in the third inning on a Blake Pinnion bases-clearing double to right center. The Purple Aces, seemingly for the first time this series, were able to respond in the bottom of the fourth as left-fielder Jared Baehl doubled to right center for 2 RBI. However that’s all they would get off starter Brad Drust (1-2), who gave the Salukis a third consecutive quality start going 8 innings, allowing two runs on eight scattered hits, while walking three and striking out five. The Salukis would add three more runs on three solo homeruns from center-fielder Chris Murphy, Jordan Sivertsen and Nick Johnson, to put away Evansville for good, 6-3.
Overall, the Purple Aces just appeared outmatch during this weekend’s series. While they had a respectable twenty-nine hits combined over the three games, they left an unforgivable twenty-eight batters on-base. While he had two 2-4 days to start the series, third baseman Cody Fick went hitless in Sunday’s matinee, and picked up his first loss of the season on the mound. Fick was knocked around for five runs on nine hits and three walks, though notching four strikeouts, as his perfect record drops to 5-1. Again, credit has to go to the Saluki’s starters who, although giving up hits, were able to pitch out of trouble and were bolstered by an offense that was able to get ahead early. “If you get that kind of pitching for three-straight starts, you are going to win a lot of series,” interim coach Ken Henderson said. “The No. 1 credit goes to those three starters and we got three quality outings.”
SIU – Jr. RHP Cameron Maldonado, W (3-4); 8.1 IP, 8 H, 0 ER, BB, 8 K
So. LHP Cody Forsythe, W (3-3); 7 IP, 8 H, 1 ER, BB, 4 K
So. LHP Brad Drust, W (1-2); 8 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 5 K
Bradley at Indiana State: Sycamores Take Two of Three from Bradley
The Sycamores opened up conference play by taking the first two against Bradley, in what would be a fiercely contested, back-and-forth series all-around. Game one aptly fit that description, as Indiana State jumped out to 2-1 lead, only to give it back to Bradley 3-2, and then scored three more times to come-back and win 5-3. The Braves almost broke the game open in the top of the fifth, scoring two runs on a bases-loaded single by first-baseman Derek Sprout off ISU reliever Reggie Hochstedler. Hochstedler settled down after that, throwing three scoreless innings to allow the Sycamores to come back and tie the game in the seventh. Shortstop Tyler Wampler knocked-in the go ahead run with an RBI single in the eighth, Sycamores righty Chris Machado picked up the win in relief.
Game two was an offensive outburst, as Indiana State nearly gave up a nine-run lead, but held on to win 11-8. The Sycamores scored nine in the second on seven straight singles to start the game. However, the Braves scored two in the fourth, two in the fifth and four more in the sixth (capped off with a Brad Kimball 3-run homerun) to make the score 10-8. The trio of Brandon Flora, Machado and closer Blake Drake were able to shut-out the Braves in the final three innings to secure the win. Six Sycamores hitters had two-hit days, and every starter had at least one hit, and either knocked-in or scored a run.
Game three was the closest of the series, as Bradley finale edged out Indiana State winning 9-8. This was perhaps the most back-and-forth game of all, as there were five lead changes, and the Braves scored seven runs in the final three innings to come back from a 5-2 deficit to win. Bradley scored four in the seventh to take a 6-5 lead, but ISU came right back with two runs of their own in the bottom of the inning to take the lead right back, 7-6. The teams would trade runs in the eighth to make the score 8-7 Indiana State. Closer Blake Drake (1-3) came into the game in the top of the ninth for the save, but walked third-baseman Rob Elliot and left-fielder Mike Tauchman to start the innin—and was consequently replaced by LHP Greg Kuhlman. After a sac bunt and intentional base on balls, Derek Sprout took the game tying walk to force Elliot home. After another pitching change, shortstop Jason Leblebijan hit a sacrifice fly to score the go-ahead run.
ISU – RF Robby Ort, 5-11, 2B, 5 RBI, 3 R, 3 BB