TERRE HAUTE, IN - Starting pitching. That has been the story for Indiana State much of this season, and continued to be just that against Southern Illinois this past weekend.
The Sycamores pitching staff started off rocky at the beginning of game one on Friday night, as senior Triston Polley allowed the Salukis to jump out to a quick 1-0 lead in the top of the 1st. Those fortunes, however, would change soon enough.
While the offense may be overlooked at times during this season, they continue to be hot, especially in the early innings. With the help of Jarrod Watkins (4-for-4 with three doubles and two RBI), the Sycamores matched the Salukis’ first inning run and raised them two to take a 3-1 lead after the bottom of the first.
From there, Polley would settle in. Despite a two-run fifth inning, Polley would go the distance, allowing just three hits, while striking out 11 batters in his sixth win of the season. The Sycamores would take the Friday contest by a score of 6-3.
Saturday’s meeting between the two squads would be much of the same. Junior Collin Liberatore would keep the hot pitching going for the Sycamores, stifling the Salukis’ bats for eight innings. Indiana State would jump out to an early 2-0 lead after the bottom of the first, thanks in large part to doubles off the bats of Jarrod Watkins and Romero Harris.
Pitching with a lead, Liberatore would dominate through his eight innings pitched, allowing just two hits to go along with his 10 strikeouts. After additional runs came across for the Sycamores in the 2nd, 4th and 6th innings, Indiana State would go on to win game two by a score of 7-2, resulting in continued perfection for Liberatore, sitting at an 8-0 record on the season.
In game three of the weekend series, the Salukis would attempt to change their fortunes. With added aggression on the base paths, Southern Illinois would steal four bases and take a 4-3 lead into the fourth inning, chasing Sycamores’ starting pitcher, Tyler Whitbread, from the game.
The lead, however, would be short-lived. After a scoreless fourth inning for both teams, the Sycamores would add four runs over the next two innings. Jarrod Watkins, Jake Means and Luke Fegen would all hit home runs in game three.
With run support, the Indiana State bullpen would slam the door shut. Tyler Ward and Tyler Grauer would each go three innings, allowing just two hits each. Ward would earn his fifth win of the season, while Grauer struck out five batters for his seventh save of the year in the 7-4 final.
The Sycamores, now 32-9 and leading the MVC with a 9-3 record, will have a midweek matchup at Illinois on May 1st before traveling to face the Redbirds of Illinois State for a top-2 MVC matchup May 3-5.