SPRINGFIELD, Mo. —
Indiana State’s baseball team picked a very bad time to have its worst stretch of the 2012 season.
Forced into an early Missouri Valley Conference baseball tournament elimination game after being one-hit by Creighton on Tuesday, the top-seeded Sycamores knew they needed a strong counter-punch against Evansville on Wednesday morning.
That didn’t happen. The Sycamores were dealt a knockout blow by the Purple Aces instead.
A six-run second inning by Evansville proved too much for the Sycamores to overcome as they were eliminated from the MVC Tournament with an 8-5 loss to the No. 5-seeded Aces.
“Baseball is cruel. We came out yesterday and [Creighton starter Ty] Blach had the game of his life. Today we come out and Dakota [Bacus, ISU starter] didn’t have his best stuff. Credit to Evansville, they made him pay for it,” ISU infielder Koby Kraemer said.
It’s the first time since 1990 that a No. 1 seed has gone winless at the MVC Tournament. ISU has lost four in a row and five of its last six games.
It gets worse.
An NCAA Tournament at-large bid that seemed assured when ISU won the MVC regular season championship last Thursday is now in jeopardy. Preliminary projections have ISU’s RPI at 49.
Upsets elsewhere in the MVC Tournament – No. 2-seeded Missouri State lost on Tuesday to Bradley and No. 3-seeded Wichita State was eliminated on Wednesday – could mean that a team not expected to qualify for the NCAA Tournament out of the MVC could steal a bid from one of the favorites.
It’s not unprecedented for an MVC regular-season champion to be left out of the NCAA Tournament. Missouri State wasn’t selected in 2009 and co-champion Wichita State wasn’t chosen in 2010.
Bids are announced at noon on Monday. It’s going to be a long four days for the Sycamores to sweat out their fate.
“It’ll be very hard. It feels like we just played our last game. I hope to God it wasn’t our last game,” ISU first baseman Jon Hedges said.
ISU never led. Evansville’s Kyle Pollock hit a solo home run down the left-field line in the first to stake the Aces to a 1-0 lead.
The game spiraled out of the Sycamores’ control in the next inning.
Evansville (32-26) led off with a single, a hit batsman and a sacrifice and throwing error by pitcher Dakota Bacus to load the bases.
After a sacrifice fly by Tim Bodine made it 2-0, Evansville opened its floodgates. Eric Stamets singled off the outstretched glove of Ryan Walterhouse to make it 3-0. Jake Mahon then singled through Jon Hedges at first base to make it 4-0.
Pollock followed with an RBI double and Chris Pearson slapped a two-run single to left. When it was all said and done, the Aces led 7-0.
“We kept thinking he was going to figure it out and get out of it. He’s been so good all year, but he just didn’t,” ISU coach Rick Heller said. “He wasn’t sharp today, he was over the middle of the plate and they hit him.”
ISU responded in the third as Kraemer hit a two-run home run to left field to make it 7-2. Evansville, however, played small ball to maximum effect in its half. A two-out bunt single by Bodine, a stolen base and an RBI single by Stamets made it 8-2.
In a game where the nadir pickings were plenty, the low point might have come in ISU’s fourth inning. Hedges led off with a single and Lucas Hileman followed with a line drive into the right-center field gap.
Hedges was seemed intent on stopping at third base, but Heller waved him around to score. But when Hedges turned to see where the relay throw was, Heller put the stop sign on. Hedges was caught between third and home.
Meanwhile, Hileman never stopped and beat the relay throw to third for what should have been a triple. Hedges tried to return to third base, but with Hileman already on third, Hedges was caught in a rundown. The play ended 8-4-5-2.
Hileman later scored via an error to make it 8-3, but it could have been more. Heller blamed himself for the miscue.
“At first I thought [Hedges] was going to score easily. Jon’s not the fleetest runner and as soon as I waved him, he slowed down and looked behind him. I panicked a little bit. With nobody out, I didn’t want to run into an out at the plate and then I stopped him,” Heller said. “By the time I stopped him, Hileman had [reached third]. It was a fiasco. It was my fault.”
ISU (41-17) added two in the eighth on a two-run home run by Hedges, but the early hole proved too difficult to crawl out of.
“In sports, you hate leaving things in other people’s hands, committees and everything like that. But we didn’t play well enough to take it out of their hands,” Kraemer said. “We’ll have to sit and wait. It’s not going to be fun. We have to pray our regular season was good enough to prove we can play in a [NCAA] regional.”
NCAA hopes in peril
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. —
Indiana State’s baseball team picked a very bad time to have its worst stretch of the 2012 season.
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