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Missouri Valley Conference Weekend Recap (April 22nd-24th)

By: John Lockwood

Pitching was the theme of this weekend’s MVC conference play, with several impressive performances and thrilling series being played across the Valley. In a highly anticipated match-up of last year’s conference championship, Wichita State took two of three from visiting Illinois State, getting two solid outings from their left-handed starters. In what was possibly the most exciting and tightly contested series played all season (every game was decided by one run), Southern Illinois upset the best team in the conference by taking two, on the road, from #29 Creighton—in the shiny new TD Ameritrade Ballpark. Possibly the best pitching came from the Bradley-Evansville series, where three pitchers tossed complete games—two of them shutouts. Meanwhile in Springfield, Missouri State took two of three from Indiana State in a series which saw Brock Chaffin knock in seven runs—in one game.

 

 

CBD MVC Players of the Week:

 

SIU – So. LHP Cody Forsythe, W(5-3); 7 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 10 K

BU – Jr. LHP Joe Bircher, W(5-3); CG, 6 H, ER, 0 BB, 10 K

UE – Fr. LHP Cole Isom, W(4-4); CG, 2 H, 0 ER, BB, 8 K

Sr. RHP Cody Fick,W(6-2); CG, 7 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K

WSU – Jr. LHP Brian Flynn W(4-1); CG, 2 H, 1 ER, BB, 4 K

 

(Note: Yes, I know, some of you might be asking, “How can you have 5 different players of the week (all pitchers)?” Well when you have five pitchers combine for 43 innings, strike out a total of 39 batters, and allow just two earned runs combined (that’s a 0.41 ERA if you must know)—that’s just what happens.)

 

(Also, you try picking just one…)

 

 

Illinois State at Wichita State: Shockers Win Series 2-1

 

Wichita State (25-18, 5-4) sent a strong message to the Missouri Valley Conference this weekend taking two from the Illinois State Redbirds (25-12, 5-4) at Eck Stadium. Despite a final score of 6-1, the Shockers opening victory Friday night was a relatively close game. Redbirds starter Corey Maines (7-1) had a shaky opening inning, giving up an RBI double to Preston Springer and another run on an RBI groundout to first baseman Johnny Coy. However, Maines followed up with five scoreless innings before running into some more trouble again in the seventh. The Redbirds would get one right back in the top of the second on safety squeeze by second baseman Bryan Huff, which scored Josh Colon from third. Unfortunately for ISU, this would be the only run they would manage all game. Although they had eight hits on the day, the Redbirds could not seem to put any runners across, stranding a total of 11 men on base—six by left fielder Tyler McNeely alone, as ISU’s top-hitter went 0-4 on the day. Coy would add a three-run homer in the seventh to chase Maines from the game and put the Shockers ahead for good.

 

Game two was a slightly more one-sided affair, as Wichita starter Brian Flynn—in keeping with the pitching motif of the weekend— absolutely befuddled the Redbirds hitters, leading the Shocks to a 6-1 victory. Flynn (4-1) tossed a complete game two-hitter, allowing only one earned run on a walk and four strike-outs. The big inning for the Shocks came in the fifth when back-to-back doubles by Tyler Grimes and Kevin Hall put one run on the board, followed by back-to-back singles from catcher Chris O’Brien and Springer to add one more. After a pitching change for the Redbirds, third-baseman Tyler Coughneour lined a doubled to left-field which put the Shockers up 5-0.

 

The Redbirds were able to escape Wichita with a win however, taking Sunday’s final 9-4 to avoid the sweep. Tyler McNeely had a big day at the plate, making up for is 0-6 performance in the series by going 3-5 with 2 homeruns, a double, 3 runs batted in and 3 runs scored. Shockers’ starter Josh Smith (4-3) lasted only and inning and two-thirds, allowing four runs (three earned) on four hits and a walk. Redbird sophomore JD Learnard (4-1) went 6 innings for ISU, allowing four runs (two earned) on six hits and three walks while striking out four in the win. Despite the losses, ISU still jumped on the good pitching band-wagon: the Redbirds’ bullpen—notably righty Justin Hauer—continued to be the best in the Missouri Valley Conference, going 8.2 innings in the series against the Shockers, giving up no earned runs with seven strikeouts against only one walk.

 

 

Notables:

ISU – Sr. LF Tyler McNeely, 3-11, 2 HR, 2B, 4 RBI, 3 R

WSU – Jr. LHP Brian Flynn W(4-1); CG, 2 H, 1 ER, BB, 4 K

 

 

Southern Illinois at Creighton: Salukis Upset CU, Take two of three

Southern Illinois (15-24, 6-3) traveled to Omaha over the weekend, looking to upset Creighton (27-10, 6-3) in the first ever series at the brand-spanking new (and dazzling) TD Ameritrade Park. And that’s exactly what the Salukis did; taking two of three from the Jays and sending a message to the rest of the Valley that SIU are hardly a push-over. Right from the start the series promised to be a thriller, as the Jays came-from-behind to win Friday’s opener 5-4 on a walk-off single by third baseman Chance Ross. Tied 3-3 going into the top of the ninth, Southern Illinois scored the go-ahead run when first baseman Wes Neece crossed the plate thanks to a wild pitch from Jays’ reliever Reese McGraw. But in the bottom of the inning, with runners on first and second, and only one out, Anthony Bemboom lined a shot down the right field line to score Trever Adams from second and tie the game. After Mike Gerber—who hit his fourth homer of the season earlier in the game—was intentionally walked to load the bases, Ross came through with a single to left field to escape with the win.

 

The Salukis were unfazed by the loss, coming out with equal determination to win in game two, and this time doing so 3-2 in another dramatic finish. The Salukis scored all their runs in the first three innings, thanks to a Nick Johnson two-run homer in the second and DH Austin Montgomery’s sac fly in the third. However, this is all the run support the Saluki’s starter Cody Forsythe would need his need as he put up his best performance of the season—and his career. The lefty went seven innings and simply baffled the Jays’ hitters, scattering four hits and two walks while not allowing a run, and striking out a career-high ten batters. Creighton made things interesting in the ninth however, when Trever Adams hit his league-leading 11th homerun of the season off of SIU closer Tyler Dray—who was the loser in game one—to start the inning. After getting third baseman Alex Stahely to line out, Dray gave up back to back walks to put the tying run in scoring position. But Dray wouldn’t let the Jays get the best of him, getting Gerber to strike out swinging in a harrowing seven-pitch at-bat and pinch hitter Clay Cuno to pop up to first to end CU’s rally. Creighton starter Jonas Dufek went seven innings allowing three runs on four hits with two walk and seven punch outs in his first loss of the season.

 

Sunday was another close affair, and Coach Ken Henderson again got a phenomenal start from his starter—this time sophomore Brad Drust—as the Salukis held on to clinch the series with a 2-1 win. Drust went seven strong innings, allowing a run on six hits while walking none and striking out seven. Todd Eaton picked up his first save of the season throwing two scoreless innings in his third appearance of the weekend. Nick Johnson again came through for his team, hitting a triple in the fourth inning to score Jordan Sivertsen from first and then scoring on a sac fly for the go ahead run.

 

After losing their series against Missouri State last weekend by only a run in Sunday’s finale, the Salukis were in jeopardy of returning to their losing ways. But again, strong outstanding performances from Cody Forsythe and his fellow starters against a good hitting team allowed his team to take the lead and hold on for the win. This series win was made all the more significant by the fact that it was against Creighton (the nationally-ranked, number one team in the conference) and in their new ballpark (and the home of the College World Series). This was a huge win for Ken Henderson, who in characteristic, understated coach-speak said “It’s a big win for us, another league win, and that’s the main thing for me.” It was the Salukis first win in Omaha in eight years.

 

Notables:

SIU – So. LHP Cody Forsythe, W(5-3); 7 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 10 K

CU – So. LHP Ty Blach, 6.2 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 9 K

 

 

Evansville at Bradley: Aces Take Series 2-1 against Braves

 

In a series that witnessed some magnificent pitching performances, Bradley (20-18, 2-7) took the opener of the series in a close 3-2 win as part of Saturday’s double-header, but could not muster a run in the rest of the series as Evansville (22-15, 3-6) took games two and three to clinch the series. Junior lefty Joe Bircher (5-3) was outstanding for the Braves in game one, tossing a complete game allowing just one earned run on six hits and 0 walks while fanning ten. UE starter Kyle Lloyd (3-4) was gusty, surrendering three runs (two earned) in seven innings. However, Lloyd doomed himself in the seventh, walking Bradley third baseman Rob Elliot and allowing him to advance to third on two wild pitches. Elliot would score on a Jarrod Eigsti RBI groundout for the winning run.

 

Following Bicher’s lead, game two was all Evansville starter Cole Isom’s—shutting out the Braves 6-0. Isom (4-4) was masterful, going the distance and allowing just three runners to reach base all game (two hits and walk) while striking out eight. Game three was more of the same, but this time with terrific outing from starters on both sides, as the Aces got another shut-out from the their starter in Sunday’s 2-0 win.

 

While I’m sure that if someone told Bradley starter John Nasshan (2-5) before the game that he would going 7.2 innings, allow only one earned run, walk none and strike out five, he would assume that would also come with a win. Unfortunately for him—and his team—this did not take into account the other pitcher. Stand-out senior Cody Fick (6-2)—who had lost his previous two decisions—returned to form on the mound, himself throwing a complete game shutout (that’s three in this series if you are counting) scattering seven hits, walking two and punching out seven. After the losses his pitching staff suffered at the beginning year, Aces head Coach Wes Carroll must be counting his blessings, or at the very least hoping for more of the same the rest of the season.

 

Notables:

BU – Jr. LHP Joe Bircher, W(5-3); CG, 6 H, ER, 0 BB, 10 K

UE – Fr. LHP Cole Isom, W(4-4); CG, 2 H, 0 ER, BB, 8 K

Sr. RHP Cody Fick,W(6-2); CG, 7 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K

 

Indiana State at Missouri State: Bears Power past Sycamores, Take Series 2-1

 

Missouri State (23-15, 6-3) decided to buck the trend of good pitching in game one of their series against Indiana State (20-18, 3-6), and just score as many runs as possible run-ruling the Sycamores 14-2. Junior Brock Chaffin knocked-in half of his team’s runs with a bases-clearing double in the fourth inning and a game-ending grand slam in the eighth. Luke Voit went 3-3 on the day, with three runs scored and two runs batted in.

 

The Sycamores didn’t go as easily in game two, coming back from down 6-3 to tie up the series with a 7-6 win. The Bears went into the eighth inning ahead by three, but reliever Clay Murphy allowed the lead to be cut to 6-4 when closer Dan Kickham came in with runners on the corners. Kickham immediately uncorked a wild pitch to allow the lead to close within one, and then surrendered a single to Sycamore third baseman Koby Kraemer to tie up the game. Kraemer advanced to second on a fielding error by the left fielder, advanced to third on another Kickham wild pitch and then scored the winning run on a Lucas Hileman sac fly. ISU’s senior closer Blake Drake came into the game in the eighth with runners on the corners and two outs, and retired the next four batters to end the game.

 

The Bears finally got the memo from the rest of the conference in game three, when starter Blake Barber put together a solid outing to bring his team 4-1 victory. Barber (6-2) tossed 6.2 innings, scattering six hits and allowing one unearned run, while matching a career high in strike-outs with seven. Brent Seifert hit a 2 RBI double in the fifth in what would be the winning run, and sophomore Pierce Johnson pitched a scoreless 2.1 innings for his first career save.

 

Notables:

MSU – Jr. DH/1B Brock Chaffin, 4-11, GS, 2B, 7 RBI, 3 R

Sr. RHP Blake Barber, W(6-2), 6.2 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, BB, 7 K