News From Terre Haute, Indiana

College

April 27, 2014

Same script: Once again, Sycamores use strong pitching, defense to win close game

TERRE HAUTE — If an alien from outer space were planning to visit Bob Warn Field to see what the fuss involving Indiana State baseball was all about, Sunday’s rubber game of the Missouri Valley Conference series between the Sycamores and Dallas Baptist would have been the perfect time to see a typical example.

ISU scrapped and clawed and scratched out a few runs, overcoming adversity with the help of stellar defense and clutch pitching.

And when the dust settled, that effort had paid off in another win — a nervous, nail-biting kind of win, but a 3-2 win nonetheless.

“One thing about this club, from the first day, is they just play and continue to play,” coach Mitch Hannahs said afterward. “You’re going to have some adversity, but you can’t let that change the way you play and make you timid. … They battle; they understand there are lots of ups and downs in the course of a game and in the course of a season.”

Leading the Sycamores into battle on Sunday was senior pitcher Kurt Kudrecki, who rose to the occasion with maybe his best game in an ISU uniform — even if its start was less than auspicious.

After opening the game with a strikeout and a one-two-three first inning, Kudrecki gave up a single, then a walk, then another single that loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the second. But with disaster looming, the Sycamore pitcher induced a ground ball for a double play, then another grounder to escape while allowing just one run.

“[The Patriots] got a few guys on, but I got a huge double play from my infield,” Kudrecki said after the game. “That drove me to get the next guy out so we could get out of the inning with just one run.”

“His ability to pitch through that was the difference in the game,” Hannahs said later.

Kudrecki didn’t get another strikeout the rest of the day, but he didn’t allow another hit or another run either. He allowed three more walks before being relieved in the top of the seventh but was Greg Maddux-like in his ability to keep a frightening DBU lineup off-balance.

“I just stayed in the down zone, working the inside corner and throwing a lot of changeups,” Kudrecki explained.

“You saw a very determined Kurt Kudrecki today,” Hannahs added. “He knew for us to have a chance, he had to pitch better than he had all year, which he did. And when he got in a little trouble, he kept his composure. … He did a good job changing his pattern as the game went along.”

ISU’s offense had stranded three baserunners in the first two innings, but gave its pitcher a little support in the third. Landon Curry got his second leadoff single of the game and was safe at second when Drew Turbin couldn’t handle a throw on a force attempt on Cody Zimmerman’s grounder.

Jacob Hayes showed bunt and got the desired result without having to bunt when Cory Taylor’s pitch went to the backstop off the glove of catcher Daniel Salters. Then Hayes, 0 for 11 in the series to that point, drove a two-run single up the middle to give the Sycamores the lead.

Kudrecki retired nine of the next 10 batters he faced, but the Sycamores missed some opportunities to get farther ahead. Then Connor McClain walked with one out in the sixth and took second as Derek Hannahs grounded to the right side on a hit-and-run play. Curry made that pay off when he got his third hit, a smash off the glove of shortstop Trevin Sonnier into short left field for the RBI.

“Connor did a good job getting on base,” said Curry, who finished the game with 60 percent of his team’s hits. “I was just trying to put the ball in play, hit it hard somewhere, and luckily it got through.”

Baserunning aggressiveness — including three steals off Salters and his cannon arm — was another typical part of the ISU game that showed up more on Sunday than it had earlier in the series. “We knew we had to be more aggressive today,” Hannahs said.

Kudrecki was relieved in the seventh after a leadoff walk and an infield out, and Josh Dove got out of that inning with a soft line drive and a strikeout.

Dove hung a curveball with one out in the eighth and Mike Wesolowski drove it out of the park to cut the lead to a run, and a two-out error set up a nervous moment when Justin Wall hit a long drive that McClain hauled in at the fence.

Dove finished off his save by allowing a one-out hit in the ninth, then getting back-to-back grounders to Tyler Wampler at short.

“There were a couple of ups and downs after I came out,” Kudrecki said, “but I trust my team. This was a really big win for us.”

“It’s big, really big,” Curry agreed. “It’s always good to beat a good, quality team, and having these two wins [in the series] keeps us up toward the top [of the MVC standings].”

The series win was also big in maintaining the Sycamores’ RPI and postseason hopes, although that’s not what their coach was emphasizing Sunday.

“Bottom line, we didn’t want to lose another series on our home field,” Hannahs said. “Postseason and all those things is talk for people outside the field. Our job is to continue to compete.”

Thanks to finals week and the cancellation of a series with Grambling that had been scheduled for next weekend, ISU now has a 10-day break before a May 7 trip to Ball State.

“No. 1, when you feel like you’re playing pretty good baseball you don’t want to sit at home and get stale,” Hannahs said. “On the other hand, we’ve leaned on the same pitchers all year long.”

A little refreshing might be a good thing, then, the coach reasoned.

“We played pretty well out of the gate [at the beginning of the season],” Hannahs pointed out.

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