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May 20, 2014

MVC Tournament: Redbirds' Savas walks tightrope to vanquish Shockers

Illinois State defeats Wichita State 6-0 in tourney opener

TERRE HAUTE — Illinois State starting pitcher Dan Savas walked a tightrope. Wichita State got its lead runner on five times against the Redbirds' ace which is usually a recipe for trouble.

But not for Savas. The Illinois State ace dug in and extricated himself out of one jam after another. He had help from a Wichita State team that didn't have the same grit at the plate. The fifth-seeded Redbirds knocked off the fourth-seeded Shockers 6-0 in the opening game of the Missouri Valley Conference baseball tournament at Bob Warn Field.

Savas pitched 6 1/3 innings and had a wild ride. He allowed only four hits -- he didn't concede a hit until the fourth -- and struck out eight, but he also had a career-high six walks. Even so, WSU didn't make Savas pay.

"I lived up in the zone and that's not typically where you want to be," Savas said. "I took me a little while to start. I think my adrenaline was going a bit."

Wichita State starter Cale Elam had a quality start as he allowed six hits over seven innings. The difference was that Illinois State (31-21) cashed in on its opportunities.

Illinois State took a 1-0 lead in the second when Mason Snyder doubled and then scored on a Brock Stewart single. Illinois State increased its lead to 2-0 when Snyder scored on a wild pitch.

Wichita State's best chance came in the seventh. With two runners on, Casey Gillaspie -- the MVC Player of the Year with 15 home runs -- came to the plate. Kingston lifted Savas for reliever Jeremy Rhoades and he got the dream scenario. Gillaspie hit his first pitch into a 4-6-3 double play.

"There's no question it was the play of the game. One of the best hitters in the country at the plate. One of the best closers on the mound. It was the big matchup everyone likes to see and Rhoades got the big double play," Kingston said.

Stewart broke the game open with a three-run home run to right in the top of eighth to make it 5-0. Illinois State added an insurance run in the 9th to provide the final margin of victory.

"You can't let down at any point in the tournament or its over. We knew coming in we had a clean slate and we want to make the most of it," Stewart said.

Illinois State had lost nine of 10 entering the tournament. Obviously the victory provided a nice tonic to get the promising Redbirds pointed in the right direction.

"When we play well, that's what we look like. We get great, dominant starting pitching, get good defense, we get clutch hits," Kingston said.

Wichita State coach Todd Butler, meanwhile, was disappointed with the lack of fight from the 29-27 Shockers.

"Tomorrow it comes down to how much you want to play. Do you want the season to continue? I just don't see it from this team right now ... the toughness and the grit," Butler said.

Illinois State will play Southern Illinois game at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Wichita State plays Evansville at 9 a.m. Tuesday in an elimination game.

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