TERRE HAUTE —
In a difficult early-season Missouri Valley Conference schedule, Indiana State took its lumps. Unenviable back-to-back trips to contenders Missouri State and Wichita State had ISU reeling with five straight MVC losses eight days ago.
ISU began to punch back last weekend by taking the series finale at Wichita State, and the Sycamores landed a haymaker this weekend against former league-leader Creighton.
ISU downed Creighton 5-3 on Sunday at Bob Warn Field to complete its second MVC series sweep at home this season.
The Sycamores won their fifth straight overall and fourth straight conference game. The win lifted ISU to 7-5 in the MVC, and the Sycamores (17-13 overall) are just 11⁄2 games behind MVC pacesetters Wichita State.
“Our guys are fired up. They’re starting to believe. To sweep Creighton is a big deal,” ISU coach Rick Heller said. “I really feel like we’ve had the toughest schedule. The schedule-makers weren’t kind to us, but to fight through it? I’m very pleased with the team.”
ISU’s defense and two-out hitting carried the day. Several defensive plays helped ISU stem the Creighton tide, but two stood out.
In the third inning, with Creighton’s Federico Castagnini on second in a tie game, Jake Peter hit a deep liner to right that swerved in the wind. ISU right fielder Jacob Hayes struggled to get a bead on it, but he leaped and made an impressive catch on the lip of the warning track.
Castagnini advanced to third, but never scored.
“We don’t have a lot of players who are automatic power guys to produce runs, so we emphasize pitching and defense. Whenever we make big plays like that, it’s just hard work paying off,” Hayes said.
With ISU leading 4-3 in the top of the seventh, and with Castagnini on first, Peter hit a deep ball between Hayes and center fielder Landon Curry in the right field power alley.
Curry had to range far to his left to track the ball, but he made the catch on the warning track. Castagnini was running on the play and Curry was able to deliver the ball to first in time for a rare 8-4-3 double play.
“We were playing no-doubles, so were deep, but he pulled it to right. I tracked it down and we were fortunate enough to double him up,” Curry said.
ISU’s two-out hitting prowess came into play in the sixth. Creighton had taken its first lead of the series with a three-run fifth to make it 3-1. ISU’s rally started quietly as Casey McCurdy drew a walk.
Owen Conway then beat out an infield single on great diving stab by Castagnini at third, but his throw sailed high. McCurdy came all the way around to score to make it 3-2.
Heller elected to pinch-hit Mike Fitzgerald. On a 1-1 count, Fitzgerald crushed a Bryan Sova slider to deep left-center field. Fitzgerald’s two-run blast careened halfway up the tree line to the left of the 396-foot sign in center. More importantly, it gave ISU a 4-3 lead.
For Fitzgerald, who has slumped this season at .215, the big fly was a big relief.
“I’ve been struggling and I haven’t found my pure swing I’ve had,” Fitzgerald said. “I saw it fly out, and you can’t describe the feeling I had.”
ISU added another run in the seventh via a Robby Ort sacrifice fly. Ort was 7-for-11 in the series with five RBI.
ISU resumes play with a pair of nonconference games this week as it hosts Butler on Tuesday and SIU-Edwardsville on Wednesday.
ISU 5, Creighton 3
CREIGHTON (AB-R-H-RBI) — McKewon lf 5-1-2-1, Castagnini 3b 4-1-2-0, Peter 2b 4-0-1-1, Gerber cf 4-0-3-1, Staehely ss 4-0-0-0, Murphy rf 4-0-0-0, Lucansky 1b 4-0-0-0, R. Fitzgerald 3-1-2-0, Lamb c 3-0-1-0, Mackovicka pr 0-0-0-0. TOTALS 35-3-11-3.
INDIANA STATE (AB-R-H-RBI) — Curry cf 3-0-0-0, Hannahs 2b 3-1-1-0, Kraemer 3b 4-0-1-0, Ort 1b 3-1-2-1, Hayes rf 4-0-0-0, McCurdy 2-1-1-1, Conway lf 4-1-2-0, Steen 2-0-0-0, M. Fitzgerald ph-c 2-1-1-2, Wampler ss 3-0-0-0. TOTALS 30-5-8-4.
Creighton 000 030 000 — 3
Indiana State 010 003 10X — 5
E — Castagnini (5); DP — ISU. LOB — CU 9, ISU 6. 2B — McKewon (5), Castagnini (5), Gerber (5); Ort (6); 3B — Gerber (4). HR — M. Fitzgerald (2); SH — Lamb (7); SF — Peter (2); Ort (7), McCurdy (3). SB — Curry (14).
IP H R ER BB SO
Groth 4 1/3 5 1 1 1 1
Winkelman 1 1/3 1 2 2 1 0
Sova (L, 1-2) 2/3 2 2 2 0 1
Lukowski 1 2/3 0 0 0 0 2
IP H R ER BB SO
Peterson 5 8 3 3 0 3
Negele (W, 2-0) 1 0 0 0 1 0
Fehringer 2 2/3 3 0 0 1 1
McElderry (SV, 1) 1/3 0 0 0 0 0
HBP — by Sova (Hannahs). T — 2:36. A — 608.
Next — ISU (17-13, 7-5) plays host to Butler on Tuesday. Creighton (18-9, 5-4) plays host to Kansas on Tuesday.