Indiana State’s baseball trip to Victory Field on Wednesday to face Butler turned into a virtuoso performance in pitching and defense.
Hitting? Not so much, but the mound and glove work made up for it. ISU eeked out a 2-1 victory over the Bulldogs to earn its third consecutive win.
Butler was a potential land mine for the Sycamores in their march to a potential NCAA Tournament bid — ISU’s RPI was 20 entering the day while the Bulldogs were ranked 239th, the lowest-rated remaining foe on ISU’s schedule.
ISU’s mid-week staff made sure the Sycamores (27-12) weren’t tripped up. Starting with Mike Hammel, who was originally slated to be a catcher, ISU’s quintet included A.J. McElderry, Nick Martin, Austin Conway and Josh Dove, who got the save. They gave up just the lone run and allowed just six hits.
“For guys who haven’t thrown much this year, I was really pleased. They competed well and we didn’t walk a lot of guys,” said ISU coach Mitch Hannahs, referring to the one walk ISU issued.
They had plenty of help from ISU’s defense, most notably shortstop Tyler Wampler, second baseman Derek Hannahs and right fielder Jacob Hayes. All made plays the kept the Bulldogs at bay.
Wampler, who has dazzled ISU for four years with his glove, had another banner day. He made a diving stab on a hard grounder up the middle in the third inning with two Bulldogs on. He got the force at second to end the inning without a run crossing the plate.
Wampler struck again in the fifth (another rangey stop created an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play) and in the eighth (another diving stop to end the inning).
“I’m just trying to make plays for guys no matter what position we’re in. Luckily, I got put in position to make some plays and I made a few,” said Wampler, who was asked to pick his favorite play.
“Any play I make that can save a run is the biggest one [in that moment].”
Derek Hannahs didn’t make the spectacular plays at second, but knocked down several would-be Butler base hits with his range. In right field, Hayes made a diving catch on a looping liner by Butler’s Mike Knesiak to end the seventh.
ISU’s defense has been strong for several years. It’s easy to take it for granted.
“Our defense has been extremely solid all year and our pitching has benefitted from that. If you look at our stats, we don’t strike a lot of people out. We’ve had to rely on that defense,” Mitch Hannahs said.
Hannahs was less pleased with ISU’s offensive performance. ISU managed just seven hits against Butler (16-23) on its staff day. ISU stranded the bases loaded twice and had several other opportunities go by the boards. ISU also had three baserunners erased via pickoffs or caught stealing.
“I was very disappointed. I felt our approaches early in counts was terrible. We were swinging way too big and trying to do too much early in the count. I thought it cost us some ABs,” Mitch Hannahs said.
Wampler admitted that he felt the offense didn’t live up to its end.
“Honestly, as a position player and hitter, we didn’t feel we did our job today. The pitchers kept us in the game and luckily we got the ‘W,’” Wampler said.
ISU’s speed helped it break through in the fifth. Landon Curry led off with a single, stole second, was sacrificed to third and was squeezed home by Hayes to make it 1-0.
The lead was doubled in the sixth when Wampler walked, stole second, and scored on a Hannahs single to right. Butler scored in its half of the sixth on a Chris Maranto sacrifice fly, but ISU’s pitching and defense held the fort.
Next up for ISU is a pivotal three-game series at Bob Warn Field against Missouri Valley Conference leader Dallas Baptist. The Patriots (6-3 MVC) co-lead the MVC with Evansville by one game over ISU and Illinois State.
With ISU’s RPI in the top 20, every game counts. Wampler knows the grind. He was on ISU’s 2012 MVC championship team and went through it before.
“The main thing we did so well that year was take it one game at a time. We know we’re in a good position to be towards the top of the league,” Wampler said.
Can unfancied ISU continue its stellar play in the last month of the season? Obviously this weekend’s series — it begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Bob Warn Field — will go a long way towards answering that question.
“That’s the million dollar question. Coaches make a lot of money to figure that out,” said Mitch Hannahs on maintaining ISU’s excellent season to date. “With Dallas Baptist coming in, the key, as always, is to throw strikes, pick it up and make sure our hitters have a good approach early in the AB and doing little things offensively we need to be successful.”
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