NORMAL, ILL. —
When Indiana State starting pitcher Sean Manaea slumped on the mound in obvious pain after he took his warm-up pitches, red flags raised for ISU’s Missouri Valley Conference tournament hopes.
Actually, someone could have taken that red flag and sprinted around the warning track with it to illustrate the magnitude of Manaea’s injury.
But ISU pitcher Josh Negele? He was having none of it.
Manaea never threw a pitch in anger for the Sycamores, as he left the game with shoulder tightness after his warm-ups, but Negele threw angry enough to give the Sycamores 51⁄3 innings of emergency-pitching brilliance.
Negele allowed just one run and lifted the No. 6-seeded Sycamores to a 4-3 victory over No. 3-seeded Creighton in the opening round of the MVC Tournament.
“His outing was more than anything could ever ask for,” said ISU catcher Mike Fitzgerald. “He threw strikes and that’s all we needed from him. He was amazing.”
Manaea was already questionable for the game due to his recurring hip injury, but pitching on abnormal rest, his shoulder tightened up. Manaea is officially credited with the start, but Negele sprinted to the bullpen and warmed up.
Called upon to bulldog his way through as many innings as possible, the ISU junior made his bark heard from the start. Negele pitched shutout ball through the first five innings. He was only threatened in the third inning, when Creighton loaded the bases, but he extricated himself with an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
“Once I got on the mound and settled down, I put on a good face, and I started throwing strikes,” said Negele, who said his slider and curve were most effective. “As soon as he said I was going in, my adrenaline was pumping. I just hit my spots.”
Negele’s longest previous career outing had been 42⁄3 innings and he began to tire in the sixth inning. He allowed one run on an Alex Staehely sacrifice fly.
But by the, Negele had done his emergency job and then some.
“The thing I told him was to take a deep breath and go out there and be yourself. He didn’t have to be anything different because of what happened. Guys would rally behind him if guys threw strikes and that’s what he did,” ISU coach Rick Heller said.
ISU had staked itself to a 2-0 lead by the time Negele exited. Creighton starter Tommy Strunc couldn’t find the strike zone and walked five in 12⁄3 innings. Landon Curry knocked in Fitzgerald in the second via a fielder’s choice. In the third inning, a Jacob Hayes groundout scored Connor McClain, who had singled and had moved to third on a Fitzgerald double.
From there, Creighton reliever Mark Lukowski pitched as effectively as Negele did. He went 51⁄3 innings and allowed just one run.
ISU gave itself much-needed insurance runs in the eighth against Lukowski’s replacement — Mark Winkelman. Kraemer and Fitzgerald both pulled juicy Winkelman offerings over the left field fence to give ISU a 4-1 advantage.
Fitzgerald had attempted to call timeout on his home run swing. He was grateful it wasn’t granted.
“It was a 2-0 count and I had just stepped in the box. He quick-pitched me and I called timeout. It’s kind of funny, when I called timeout; my momentum was taking me backwards. He threw a tight fastball. [The home run] was one of the best feelings I’ve had on a baseball field,” Fitzgerald said.
ISU needed all of its insurance runs as Creighton rallied in the ninth. The Bluejays (30-17) loaded the bases and Mike Gerber’s two-run single to left scored two Jays to make it 4-3. Greg Kuhlman eventually closed the door as Staehely hit into a force-out at third with two on.
“It was really gutsy by our team. A lot of teams would have bagged it, especially with all of the stuff that’s happened to us this year. Josh Negele gets a big tip of the hat,” Heller said.
ISU (25-23) will play Southern Illinoisat 5 p.m. today in the MVC Tournament winner’s bracket. The Salukis defeated Wichita State 5-1 in the other Bracket A opening game.
ISU 4, Creighton 3
INDIANA STATE (AB-R-H-RBI) — Curry cf 5-0-2-1, Hannahs 2b 4-0-0-0, Ort 1b 3-0-0-0, Kraemer 3b 3-1-1-1, McClain lf 4-1-1-0, M. Fitzgerald c 3-2-2-1, Hayes rf 3-0-0-1, McCurdy dh 3-0-0-0, Wampler ss 3-0-0-0. TOTALS 31-4-6-4.
CREIGHTON (AB-R-H-RBI) — McKewon lf 5-0-1-0, Catagnini 3b 4-2-2-0, Peter 2b 5-0-3-0, Gerber cf 5-0-2-2, Staehely ss 4-0-1-1, Fowler 1b 3-0-0-0, Lamb c 3-0-1-0, Murphy rf 3-0-0-0, Makovicka ph 1-1-1-0, R. Fitzgerald dh 1-0-0-0, Clouthier dh 1-0-0-0. TOTALS 35-3-11-3.
DP — ISU 1. LOB — ISU 7, CU 11. 2B — M. Fitzgerald (11); Staehely (13). HR — Kraemer (3), M. Fitzgerald (3). SH — Hayes (6). SF — Staehely (3). CS — Curry (7).
Next — ISU (25-23) plays Southern Illinois at 5 p.m. today in MVC Tournament winner’s bracket.