TERRE HAUTE —
It probably won’t make the hitters from Southern Illinois feel any better today if they learn that Indiana State’s Sean Manaea was a question mark entering Friday afternoon’s game.
The Sycamores’ Friday starter for Missouri Valley Conference baseball games this spring suffered an ankle injury while finishing a victory at Minnesota a week ago, and coach Rick Heller was just hoping to get enough innings from Manaea on Friday to save the bullpen.
(Saving the bullpen became more important earlier in the day Friday, when it was decided to play a 1 p.m. doubleheader today instead of single games today and Sunday — when yet another winter-storm watch is expected.)
“I was really proud of Sean’s outing today,” Heller said after his ace lefthander had pitched seven scoreless innings in an 8-1 win. “The sprained ankle messed up his whole routine during the week … but he gutted it out.”
In “gutting it out” Manaea allowed just three hits, only one of which was hit hard, and struck out eight while walking two and hitting a batter. His ERA for the season dropped to 0.84.
“I did all right,” Manaea said of his work on the mound. “I didn’t have great stuff the first couple innings … I was trying to jam hitters and throw my slider for strikes.”
A one-out double in the first inning — Rennie Troggio got around late on a fastball and hit an opposite-field grounder just inside the bag at first base — had Manaea in as close to a jam as he would have in the game, but he struck out SIU’s No. 3 hitter and retired the cleanup hitter on a soft fly to left.
A one-out double by Koby Kraemer in the bottom of the inning, followed by an opposite-field run-scoring single by Robby Ort, put the Sycamores ahead — and, for all practical purposes, in charge.
“It was great to get off to a 1-0 lead,” Ort said later. “Any run we put up when Sean’s out there gets us that much closer to winning.”
Before Manaea allowed another hit, his cushion had gotten bigger, and Saluki starter Sam Coonrod was in a foul mood.
Tyler Wampler reached on an error to open the bottom of the fifth, and with one out he went to third on a hit-and-run single by Landon Curry. Kraemer hit what should have been a sacrifice fly, but center fielder Troggio lost the ball in the sun, giving the ISU third baseman the RBI plus his second double of the game. Ort followed with a sacrifice fly that made the score 3-0.
Southern’s second hit was a bunt single by Jake Welch leading off the top of the sixth, and Welch was at third with one out after a balk and a wild pitch. Matt Jones hit a soft fly down the right-field line but Ort, fighting the same sun, ranged from second base to make the catch and hold Welch at third; Manaea got out of the inning when the next batter flied to right.
Manaea also pitched around a one-out double in the top of the seventh, and his teammates put the game out of reach in the bottom of the inning.
Jacob Hayes singled with one out, his second hit of the game, and Curry followed with another hit. Kraemer walked to load the bases, and Ort got his third and fourth RBIs of the game with a two-run single that knocked Coonrod out of the game.
“I was happy our guys at the top of the [batting] order came through the way they did,” Heller said later. “We were facing a good pitcher — 93 or 94 [miles per hour], good slider — and I was proud of our effort offensively … we tried to get [Coonrod’s] pitch count up and get to [the Salukis’] bullpen.”
Two SIU relievers in the inning gave up four walks and a sacrifice fly by Casey McCurdy, and with an 8-0 lead Heller let Manaea take the rest of the day off. Kurt Kudrecki gave up an eighth-inning solo homer to Welch, but displayed a knee-buckling curveball in striking out four of the other six batters he faced.
“We’re figuring things out,” said Manaea after the game, “making strides toward defending our [MVC] championship.”
“It was a good win,” Ort agreed. “[The Salukis] will be fired up [today]. We’ll have to match their energy and take it to them.”
Southern Illinois 000 000 010 — 1 4 1
Indiana State 100 020 50x — 8 8 0
Coonrod, Shimkus (7), Weld (7), Williams (8) and Jones; Manaea, Kudrecki (8) and Fitzgerald. W — Manaea, 3-1. L — Coonrod, 1-2. HR — SIU: Welch (1).
Next — Indiana State (9-7, 1-0 Missouri Valley Conference) and Southern Illinois (9-12, 0-1) play a 1 p.m. doubleheader today at Bob Warn Field.