CARBONDALE — Michael Baird threw his first complete game of the season as SIU defeated Valparaiso 6-2 in the first of a three-game series at Itchy Jones Stadium Friday. This is the first time SIU and the Crusaders have met in Missouri Valley Conference play.
Baird was in complete command throughout the game. He took a shutout into the ninth inning before giving up a walk and a home run to Sam Shaikin.
“I don’t know who said it, but I think it was some major league guy, but a third of your outings you’re going to feel really good, a third of your outings you’re going to feel absolutely horrible and a third of your outings you’ll feel OK,” Baird said. “Today was one of those days where I felt really good and comfortable on the mound. I just tried to take advantage of it.”
“Michael Baird was awfully good today, as good as he’s been all year,” said SIU coach Ken Henderson. “That’s where it started.”
Baird, a senior righthander, was also efficient. He threw just 71 pitches through the first seven innings.
“I came out and tried to throw strikes,” he said. “I knew they were aggressive guys. I tried to throw strikes and make them hit it. If they were going to win the ballgame they’d have to hit it, so that was kind of my approach.
“It was kind of my game plan we had going toward this team. I tried to perfect it and I executed the best I could.”
“They were aggressive,” Henderson said. “People do that to Michael because they know he’s going to throw strikes. They swung at a ton of first pitches. People have done that all year. People think he’s going to be in the zone so they have to be aggressive. When he’s good, he is efficient. He had great command of his slider today.”
In the meantime, Valparaiso starter Jon Tieman baffled the Salukis for four innings. SIU put runners on base in each of the first four innings, but grounded into inning-ending double plays in the first and second.
“I was frustrated,” Henderson said. “I know our hitters were frustrated. That guy was moving the ball around, he was running in on us. We had some opportunities early, but we just weren’t getting good swings on him. I think it was a credit to him.”
The Salukis manufactured a run in the fifth. Austin Ulick led off the inning with a single and advanced to third on a sacrifice and a Brad Hudson single before scoring on Niko Vasic’s ground ball.
SIU added three unearned runs in the sixth.
Logan Blackfan reached on an error before scoring on a two-out double by Drew Curtis. Curtis scored easily on Ulick’s second base hit. Freshman Grey Epps tripled home the final run of the inning.
Curtis tacked on two more runs in the eighth with a line drive homer over the center field wall.
“That first run was huge,” Henderson said. “That was the biggest one. We broke the ice a little bit. We sacrificed him over and executed. And, Niko executed to get the run in. Then, obviously extend it two more with Curtis’ home run was huge too.”
The Salukis have won six of their last eight games.
“It was a solid day,” Henderson said. “It was a workmanlike effort for us. We went out and took care of business.”
SIU and Valparaiso will play at 2 p.m. today.