CARBONDALE - Louisiana-Monroe completed a three-game sweep of the Southern Illinois baseball team Sunday at Itchy Jones Stadium. The Warhawks scored four runs in the second inning and improved to 9-2. SIU (3-8) outhit ULM 15-8 but stranded 12 runners.
The Salukis loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the first inning but did not score. Then, in the top of the second inning, ULM scored four runs on four hits and an error to seize the lead and momentum. The game mirrored Saturday's loss, when the Salukis took a 2-0 lead before allowing a seven-run second inning.
"In six different games, we're one inning away from winning," SIU head coach Ken Henderson said. "Now, we have to clean up that inning. We had the second inning today and the second inning yesterday. In four of our previous losses, we had leads in the eighth inning and didn't hold on. Again, we have to clean that up.
" Some of it is our own doing, and some of it is not. This ball club has great makeup and great chemistry. There is no doubt in my mind that we will keep grinding and figure it out. I've given the team a couple examples of ball clubs that didn't play well early and then got it going. I truly believe this team is going to do that. This club is going to get it going and win a lot of baseball games."
Southern's bullpen kept SIU in the game. Noah Farmer, a freshman, entered in the third inning and threw 3.1 innings of two-hit baseball, allowing just one run while striking out three. He gave way to Allen Montgomery, who retired the first eight ULM hitters he faced. Montgomery ran into trouble in the ninth, but Trey McDaniel limited the damage.
"Our bullpen did a phenomenal job," Henderson said. "They only had two hits in innings three through eight. Our bullpen threw up zeros. When you take your starter out after the second inning, you need guys to go in there, eat up innings, and throw up zeros. Farmer, Montgomery and McDaniel all did a great job. I'm extremely proud of our bullpen."
Southern's offense pounded out 15 hits and had at least one runner in eight innings. All nine spots in the order reached base at least once. Leadoff hitter Connor Kopach was outstanding, going 4-for-5. He created Southern's first run in the third inning. After a one-out single, Kopach stole second and third, and scored on Nikola Vasic's sacrifice fly.
ULM expanded its lead to 5-1 in the fourth, but SIU got the run back in the bottom half. Kenton Crawford drew a leadoff walk and Hunter Anderson followed with a single. After a fielder's choice, Addison Fugitt scored Crawford with a sacrifice fly. Kopach singled, but the inning ended with Austin Ulick being thrown out at the plate.
SIU put runners in scoring position in each of the final four frames, but ULM made the defensive plays to preserve its lead.
"This will start going our way, too," Henderson said. "If seems like when you're not winning, every ball they hit is just out of your reach; and every ball we hit is just within their reach. That's the way it seems sometimes, but that will turn. It won't be the case all year. This club will keep battling. You saw that last night, and you saw it again today. We got down, and there's no quit."
Down 5-2, SIU brought the tying run to the plate in each of the final four innings. The Salukis got within 5-3 in the eighth after another Kopach RBI single. But Monroe answered with two runs in the ninth to push the lead to 7-4.
Again, SIU battled back. With two outs and nobody on, Southern strung together three-straight singles to bring the tying run to the plate with Kopach on deck, but a strikeout ended the game.
"We battled hard until the end and gave ourselves a chance," Henderson said. "It was a lot like yesterday. We had a lot of hits, but we couldn't get the key hit with runners in scoring position. We had better ABs today with runners in scoring position; we just couldn't get that hit that busted it open. I'm extremely proud of how hard we grinded. We got the tying run to the plate in the ninth — we kept battling; we kept grinding."