TERRE HAUTE — When Ryan Strausborger led off the bottom of the first inning with a homer Sunday afternoon at Bob Warn Field at Sycamore Stadium, it did a couple of things for the Indiana State baseball team.
It showed the Sycamores, who went their first nine games without hitting a ball out of the park, that such a hit was possible, a theme that first baseman Phil Liniger expanded upon twice later in the game.
Just as importantly, it established that the Sycamores were going to answer every threat from visiting Tennessee-Martin. Every time the Skyhawks scored Sunday, ISU matched or bettered that total — at least until the visitors got three meaningless runs in the top of the ninth that made the final score 12-7 in favor of the home team.
“That was nice to see,” coach Rick Heller said of his team’s repeated answers. “We didn’t do that much [Saturday, when the two teams split a doubleheader].”
UT-Martin had scored in the first on a two-out double by Ty Nelson, but Strausborger evened that score on the third pitch of the bottom of the inning. ISU got an unearned run in the third inning, set up by Levi Ferguson’s leadoff bunt single, but the Skyhawks took advantage of a brief spell of wildness by Sycamore starter Jason Van Skike to get two runs in the top of the fourth for a 3-2 lead.
That advantage also was brief. In the bottom of the inning Tyler Graham was hit by a pitch, Robby Ort tied the game again with a run-scoring double, and Liniger put the Sycamores ahead to stay with the first of his two homers for the day. A single by Ferguson, a walk to Jordan Pearson, a double steal and Strausborger’s sacrifice fly made it 6-3 before the inning was over.
Liniger added another two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth and continued his six-RBI onslaught with a run-scoring single in the seventh and an RBI double in the eighth.
“I was seeing the ball fine,” the junior college transfer said after the game. “I did some extra work before the game. I struggled a bit [Saturday, an 0-for-4 performance in ISU’s 4-3 loss], and the coaches helped me out. I hope I can carry this out for the rest of the week.”
“It was nice to see Ryan and Phil hitting like that,” Heller said. “For us to win a championship, those guys will have to do that most days.”
Strausborger and Graham added eighth-inning triples, enabling Graham to score four runs, and Ferguson finished with three hits to make the first series in the renovated ballpark a successful one.
“I was real happy with how we came out and played today,” Heller said. “We had a long day yesterday, but we came out with a lot of energy and played good baseball.
“It’s good to win a series,” the coach added. “We swung the bats a lot better, we played errorless baseball — it was a real positive day.”
Liniger indicated that he and his teammates were quite happy with their first games in their refurbished home.
“I never played on [artificial] turf my whole life, and that’s something I always wanted to do,” he said.
Speaking of the series as a whole, Liniger noted, “It started off rough, but we learned from our mistakes and capitalized on them.”
If the rain stops, ISU has another home game Tuesday afternoon against Eastern Illinois. And on March 19 the Sycamores start a nine-game homestand that lasts the rest of the month and includes the first Missouri Valley Conference Series of the season against Illinois State on March 26-28.