News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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April 23, 2014

ISU baseball improves to 26-12 with 10-3 victory over Purdue

TERRE HAUTE — As its 21st-place ranking in unofficial NCAA baseball RPI lists attest, Indiana State’s baseball team has done a lot right this season.

It’s been a surprising season, but one thing the Sycamores haven’t done is to put together a big early lead and ride out the wave.

On Tuesday against struggling Purdue, ISU finally added an early big inning to its list of accomplishments.

A six-run second-inning proved to be more than enough for the Sycamores as they earned a 10-3 victory over the Boilermakers at Bob Warn Field.

ISU’s six-run outburst was its biggest inning since it scored six at Minnesota on March 17, 2013. It was a welcome surge of offense for a Sycamore club that has struggled at times at the plate in recent weeks and which has fought from behind for several of its wins.

“It’s one of those nights where everyone contributed. It wasn’t just a few guys in the lineup,” said ISU right fielder Jacob Hayes, who was 3 for 5 with three RBI. “Whenever you can do that, it gives the team a good feeling and helps the pitcher too.”

Purdue starting pitcher Brett Haan began the second by hitting ISU’s Connor McClain and Tyler Wampler. Jeff Zahn, who was 3 for 5 on the day, and Derek Hannahs followed with RBI singles as ISU took a 2-0 lead.

The bases were loaded when Cody Zimmerman drew another walk to make it 3-0. A two-run single to center by Hayes and a RBI double by Michael Eberle broke the inning wide-open to make it 6-0.

“We haven’t had that in quite some time. It seems like we’ve been playing from behind for the past couple of weeks now. We strung a lot of good ABs together. We had good at-bat after good at-bat,” ISU coach Mitch Hannahs said.

The early outburst gave ISU starter Trent Lunsford the chance to relax on a day where he wasn’t 100 percent.

Lunsford had an infection in his third finger in his throwing hand. Lunsford didn’t pitch over the weekend at Canisus and Hannahs was hoping to get as much out of him as he could with two mid-week games and a big series against Dallas Baptist starting Friday.

Lunsford pitched four innings and allowed just two baserunners to reach safely in the first three innings.

“He’s a gutty kid. His finger was swollen today, but [the training staff] drained it and gave him a shot. To be able to give us what he gave us says a lot,” Hannahs said.

Nick Kolarik relieved Lunsford and gave ISU five quality innings of relief. Vitally important given the workload ISU’s pitching staff has to absorb with five games in six days.

Purdue (9-27) cut ISU’s lead to 6-2 in the fifth, and could have had more if not for an inning-ending 1-6-3 double play. ISU answered with a run of its own in its half of the inning. Derek Hannahs knocked in Wampler on a groundout after a Wampler single and Zahn double.

A three-run, two-out rally by ISU in the seventh removed any doubt of the outcome. Hayes had a RBI single and Mike Fitzgerald had a two-run double as ISU’s lead swelled to 10-2.

It’s the first time ISU has beaten Purdue and Indiana in the same season since 2007.

ISU (26-12) has reached a stage where every game carries great reward or peril.

As of now, the Sycamores are projected to be in the NCAA Tournament by most experts, but the margin for error is slight. Mid-week games against struggling Purdue, and today, against a 12-22 Butler team, are the kind of trap games that can send a team’s RPI down the tubes.

 In one sense, it’s all gravy for ISU as it little was expected of it this season. The Sycamores were picked seventh in the preseason Missouri Valley Conference poll.

But the reality has changed for ISU. The Sycamores have played all season with a chip on their shoulder and they don’t want to risk having it slip off and wreck the good work they’ve done to put themselves in NCAA Tournament conversation.

“The coaches really challenged us at the beginning of the year when we were picked seventh. That put a spark in us. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves,” Hayes said.

“We’re not trying to look too much in the future, but you always have to keep perspective. You have to realize what games are important. If we lost this game, it would have been a big knock on our RPI,” Hayes added.

ISU’s game against Butler is at 3 p.m. today at Victory Field.

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