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March 7, 2010

ISU baseball opens Bob Warn Field with doubleheader split

TERRE HAUTE — The first game at the new Bob Warn Field did not provide the desired result for the Indiana State baseball team, the Sycamores dropping their home opener 4-3 to Tennessee-Martin (7-3).

And, “it looked like we were doomed” in the nightcap, said ISU coach Rick Heller, whose team went 3 for 18 with runners in scoring position in a 5-4, 13-inning victory in front of a solid opening-day crowd of close to 500.

ISU (5-4) tied the game on a Kyle Burnam triple in the seventh, and the Sycamores loaded the bases in the 11th. With senior lead-off man Ryan Strausborger at the plate and only one out, ISU was in good shape.

Strausborger hit a whizzing line drive but it was right at Skyhawks second baseman Trey Karlen, who quickly stepped on second base for a double play.

Strausborger bounced back with a towering double in the 13th to push freshman Jordan Pearson over to third base.

Senior Tyler Graham delivered the game-winning hit, a smash that two-hopped the wall in center field with the bases load to score Pearson.

“Very happy we found a way to get a split. We found a way to scrap,” Heller said.

Brett Merkeley earned the win, tossing two perfect innings. Tyler Browning was also effective working out of trouble for the Sycamores in the ninth, 10th and 11th.

“Our bullpen just did an awesome job. Our pitching was great all day,” said Heller, whose bullpen was a major question mark heading into the season.

Joe Rodriguez was solid as the Game 2 starter, throwing 7 2/3 innings and scattering eight hits.

ISU ace right-hander Jake Petricka was dominant behind his 90-plus fastball in the opener, finishing with 12 strikeouts and no walks. But the Skyhawks strung four straight hits together in the sixth inning to score three runs off Petricka, who bounced back by striking out the side in the seventh.

ISU finished 6 for 27 with runners in scoring position in Saturday’s two nine-inning games. The Sycamores were hitting .333 with in those clutch situations on their two season-opening road trips.

The Sycamore hitters faced equally tough pitching. UT-Martin’s Game 1 starter, Coty Green, struck out eight and scattered seven hits in eight innings with no walks.

“It was a combination of our guys maybe pressing a little bit. But I tip my hat to their guys. I saw some guys pressing, but I want to give their guys credit,” Heller said.

The middle of the UT-Martin order found holes in the infield to hurt Petricka. Clean-up man Ty Nelson smashed a double past third base, and Wes Patterson followed that with two-run single through the infield.

“I just got behind on too many counts,” Petricka said. “They’re a good team at hitting the ball on the ground and letting the turf work for them. They found an inning to square a couple up back-to-back and got some quick runs.”

ISU rallied from a 4-1 deficit with a run in the sixth on an RBI single by freshman Robby Ort. Green was strong for two more innings.

Petricka made strides from his last outing, he said, a four-inning performance in which his pitch count got high. Petricka threw 102 pitches in seven innings Saturday.

“That’s all you can ask for right there,” Petricka said of his solid outing.

ISU had a chance in the ninth against Skyhawks closer Wes Alsup, who walked one and hit a batter to give the Sycamores life. Pinch-hitter Steve Ball walked and scored on a line-drive single by Ryan Strausborger, but Alsup came back from a 3-0 count to coax a groundout from ISU third baseman Luke Fieser.

ISU’s Jason Van Skike will start the rubber game of the series today, which will start at 1 p.m. The right-hander is 1-0 with a 3.48 ERA and has 12 strikeouts in 10 innings.

• Solid turnout — In the first game at Bob Warn Field, Warn made an appearance and shook hands with all the current Sycamores.

On an afternoon with temperatures in the 40s, a solid crowd of 494 fans turned out.

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    March 12, 2010