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SIU clinches series over Illinois State

SIU's Connor Kopach crosses home plate and is met by his teammates Dyllin Mucha (from left), Ryan Sabo and Logan Blackfan, whom Kopach batted in with a two-out second inning grand slam. SIU shut out Illinois State 5-0 to clinch the series Saturday at Itchy Jones Stadium.

Richard Sitler, The Southern

CARBONDALE — Jamison Steege pitched seven strong innings and Connor Kopach hit his first career grand slam to lead the Southern Illinois University baseball team to a 5-0 win over Illinois State on Saturday at Itchy Jones Stadium.

“Story of the game is one swing of the bat and seven great innings by Jamison,” said SIU coach Ken Henderson. “Kopach’s swing in the second gave us the lead and Jamison did exactly what you’re supposed to do with a lead, which is go out and throw strikes, and that was the key. I was so proud of him.”

SIU (25-26, 8-9 MVC) won the series with the Redbirds for the third straight season. The Salukis also won their second game in row after snapping a six-game losing streak with a 3-2 win in the first game Friday night. The series concludes with a 1 p.m. game Sunday.

Steege (2-1) was making his third career start and first in the Missouri Valley, and had his best outing of the season. The junior left-hander gave up just five hits and two walks.

“When I woke up it was just another day, but when I was warming up in the bullpen was when I felt things were clicking with my mechanics. It was probably the best I’ve felt all year,” Steege said. “Fin (pitching coach P.J. Finigan) talks to me about keeping my tempo and relaxing and letting my body do the work. I felt like I controlled myself on the mound.”

Kopach gave Steege all the runs he and two relievers would need with his fourth home run of the season with two outs in the bottom of the second inning on a 2-0 pitch.

“That was my first one ever, even all the way down to Pee-Wee,” Kopach said. “He threw a changeup and a fastball in. He then threw me a fastball away."

The round-tripper tied Kopach with Will Farmer and Logan Blackfan for second on the team, one behind Greg Lambert and Jake Hand.

The day began with 11 seniors, their families and friends being honored on Senior Day, and ended with Blackfan putting his name in the record books when he smacked his 52nd career double off the wall in dead center in the fifth inning, breaking the record shared by Tim Kratochvil (1993-96) and Chris Serritella (2009-12).

“He threw me a splitter for a ball and then I swung at something low and away – not a good pitch,” Blackfan said. “I regrouped and he threw me a fastball up in the middle part of the plate and I got down on it.”

One of the few negatives in the game was the snapping of Ryan Smith’s 12-game hitting streak. The senior right fielder hit into a double play in the first, walked in the second, lined out to right in the fourth and was caught looking in the sixth.

After wasting two hits in the first inning, the Salukis took the lead on a two-out rally starting when Redbirds starter Matt Walker walked Blackfan on a 3-2 pitch.

Ryan Sabo followed with bouncer to left before Walker hit Dyllin Mucha on a 1-0 pitch to load the bases. Walker fell behind 2-0 when Kopach hit a high fly ball over the fence in the right field corner.

Steege got off to a great start with the help of a clutch defensive play. After pitching around two hits over the first three innings, with five strikeouts. Steege issued his first walk with one out in the fourth.

One out later, Derek Parola lined down the left field line. Lambert charged the ball and threw a strike to Farmer to get Parola at second, stranding the runner at third.

The Salukis added to their lead in the bottom of the fourth when Mucha stole second and third and scored on a two-out error.

Steege set down the side in the fifth and again with the help of a great defensive play pitched around back-to-back leadoff singles in the sixth to keep his shutout intact.

With the runners at first and second Owen Miller lined a 1-1 pitch to Farmer at short, who immediately threw to Kopach to pick off Ryan Hutchinson, who couldn’t get back to the second base bag.

Steege finished by pitching around a two-out walk in the seventh for his longest stint as a Saluki. 

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