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May 9, 2014

ISU claws back vs. Bears

Sycamores get punched, punch back

TERRE HAUTE — Was Indiana State’s baseball knife sharp at all times against Missouri State on Friday? It wasn’t. There were some dull spots the Sycamores had to work out.

But something this ISU team has done all season is grind its way to victories, and when pushed to the wall, it grounded its dull spots into a sharp edge that cut Missouri State deeply in the third and sixth innings.

ISU stormed back from a four-run deficit with six runs in the third inning. After Missouri State scored three in the sixth, ISU rallied with four runs of its own. The Sycamores’ counter-punches helped them defeat the Bears 10-7 at Bob Warn Field.

“The thing I’m most pleased with was our response to their aggressiveness,” ISU coach Mitch Hannahs said. “We got punched in the teeth and I felt like we responded, even though we were out of character at times during the game.”

ISU (31-13, 10-6) gained a half-game on Missouri Valley Conference leaders Evansville and Illinois State. The Purple Aces and Redbirds play each other this weekend, but were rained out in Evansville on Friday. The Sycamores trail first-place Evansville by 1 1/2 games and Illinois State by a half-game.

Missouri State (21-26, 7-9) didn’t make it easy. It was able to string together hits against ISU starter David Stagg and the Sycamores’ batters were a tad impatient at the plate in the first two innings. The Bears led 4-0 in the middle of the third inning, partly on the strength of a pair of Patrick Drake RBI doubles.

Undaunted, ISU went to work. One of the strengths of the Sycamores this season is their ability to get production from their entire order. Connor McClain, hitting in the eight-hole, was emblematic of that as he hit a triple to start ISU’s six-run third.

“We have a lot of confidence [from one to nine]. Coach Hannahs does a good job of teaching us all to battle,” said McClain, who was 3-for-4. “It doesn’t matter who’s up. We don’t have to rely on one or two guys. It’s awesome we can do that.”

Derek Hannahs followed with a RBI single to make it 4-1. After Mike Fitzgerald drew a bases loaded walk to make it 4-2, Brian Romero stepped up. He hit a deep ball to center that Missouri State center fielder Tate Matheny had trouble with.

It was scored a single and error, but could just as easily been a triple. No matter how you score it, the bases were cleared and ISU took a 5-4 lead. A Tyler Wampler RBI single closed scoring in the big inning for the Sycamores.

Missouri State wasn’t done. A two-out, sixth-inning rally against Stagg yielded three runs and the Bears took a 7-6 lead when Eric Cheray drew a bases loaded walk.

Undaunted, the Sycamores got back at it. Jeff Zahn, batting in the seven-hole, started the sixth with a single. McClain doubled and Derek Hannahs tied the game with a RBI single.

Later in the inning, Jacob Hayes stepped to the plate with runners at second and third. After working Missouri State reliever Sam Perez, Hayes drilled a three-run home run to right field. ISU led 10-7.

“He started me with a curveball for a strike and then threw fastballs. I thought he might come back with a breaking pitch, and when he did, he kind of hung it and I jumped on it,” Hayes said.

The nervous moments weren’t over. Missouri State loaded the bases in the seventh. Enter ISU closer Ryan Keaffaber. He shut the door on the Bears with two strikeouts and didn’t allow a baserunner for the remainder of the contest in a sterling performance. He struck out four in 2 2/3 innings.

“His poise is off-the-charts. He threw a 3-2 breaking ball with the bases loaded was a huge pitch in the game. We two big pitches in the game. That one and [Nick] Kolarik with a pop-up on the three-hole hitter [in the sixth],” Mitch Hannahs said.

ISU third baseman Cody Zimmerman, who exited Wednesday’s game at Ball State early with a rib injury and was questionable for Friday’s game, returned to action and was 1-for-4.

ISU will play Missouri State again at 2 p.m. today.

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