TERRE HAUTE —
Indiana State’s baseball team struggled offensively and on the mound through the first 8 1/2 innings, then its two-run ninth inning fell tantalizingly short in a 6-2 loss to Illinois-Chicago on a chilly Wednesday afternoon and evening at Bob Warn Field.
The loss snapped ISU’s winning streak at five games and dropped its record to 11-8. UIC claimed its third straight win, improving its mark to 10-11.
“It didn’t seem to be our day today,” Indiana State coach Rick Heller said afterward. “Anything that we did hit hard early was right at ‘em. Their pitcher [starter Mike McKinley, who went seven innings] kept getting confident. I feel like he gained confidence as the game went on and we kept pressing and pressing. It just didn’t work for us today.”
Tyler Fehringer took the pitching loss for the Sycamores. He lasted only three innings, having given up two earned runs, four hits and one walk. Five relievers followed, with A.J. McElderry and Kurt Kadrecki being the most effective in their one-inning stints.
“We didn’t pitch as well as we had been in the mid-week games and they swung it pretty well,” Heller assessed. “We just got beat.”
The Flames from Chicago jumped ahead 2-0 in the top of the first inning, thanks to Alex Grunenwald’s two-run single with two outs.
Illinois-Chicago went on to tally single runs in the fourth, fifth, sixth and ninth innings, boosting its advantage to 6-0. Included in its attack were six doubles by six different batters.
ISU threatened to score in the bottom of the eighth when junior Cody Zimmerman doubled to right-center field with two outs and Robby Ort followed with a long flyball to right that was caught a few feet short of being a home run.
Heller’s squad finally did score in the ninth.
With one out, Koby Kraemer beat out an infield single. Later in the frame, Jacob Hayes singled to right to plate Kraemer from second base. Then Jeff Zahn singled to right, advancing Hayes to third, and Tyler Wampler walked to load the bases.
Landon Curry reached base on a fielder’s choice to shortstop, enabling Hayes to sprint home with the second run. That brought up Zimmerman with the bases loaded and the Sycamores trailing by four runs with two outs. Zimmerman lined reliever Alex Posey’s pitch hard to center, but Ryan Shober caught it for the third and final out.
“We battled,” Heller admitted. “I knew we weren’t going to give up. It was good that a couple hits finally fell [in the ninth]. It was good to get the tying run to the plate. I was glad to see that. I thought something was going to happen because Cody had been our best hitter all day. Again, he hit the ball right on the nose — but right at the center fielder. Bad luck.”
The ninth-inning mini-rally was not the only positive aspect Heller found from the game.
“We played good defense,” he said of the Sycamores, who did not commit an error Wednesday. “We didn’t pitch terrible. It was one of those days, unfortunately, where we needed to score some runs. … But all of our pitchers were off just a little bit. It just wasn’t their day.”
Zimmerman ended up 2 for 5 to lead the ISU offense. Top hitters for Illinois-Chicago were John Coen (2 for 3), Jacob McNamara (2 for 4), Grunenwald (2 for 4), Ryan Boss (2 for 4), Andres Ortegano (2 for 4) and Shober (2 for 5). Grunenwald knocked in three runs and McNamara scored two.
Unofficial temperature at the end of the contest was 43 degrees and the attendance was listed at 108.
The Sycamores, who went 4-1 on their recent homestand, will travel to Missouri Valley Conference foe Missouri State to play a three-game series, starting with a 5 p.m. matchup Friday.
“We’re not real happy with today, but it was a good homestand,” Heller said.
“We’ll face one of our toughest challenges of the season [at Missouri State]. We’ll see some of the best pitching that we’ll see all season long, if not the best pitching we’ll see all season long. Our approach at the plate will have to be much better than it was today or it won’t be much fun.”