CARBONDALE — Chad Whitmer threw another strong seven innings for SIU's baseball team Friday night, but 16th-ranked Missouri State took advantage of six walks in the final two innings to rally for a 7-5 victory.
Whitmer struck out 12 batters and left with a one-run lead in front of a crowd of 573 fans on alumni weekend. The senior right-hander got hurt early, as the Bears scored two in the second and two in the third, but settled down for what appeared to be his fourth win in a row.
"He got better as the game went on," SIU coach Ken Henderson said. "He, obviously, found a little bit, but he wasn't as sharp, command-wise, as he has been, but he just gutted it out and competed. So, I'm unbelievably proud of how he competed."
The bullpen couldn't hold the lead.
Missouri State (31-14, 12-0 Missouri Valley Conference) tied the game in the eighth without a hit and went ahead for good with two in the ninth off Jacob Williams. Alex Gutermuth walked two of the three batters he faced to start the eighth, and Bradley Harrison walked pinch hitter Ryan Skalnik to load the bases for Drew Millas. Millas hit a sharp ground ball to the hole that SIU shortstop Will Farmer was able to keep in the infield.
Farmer threw to Ryan Sabo at third base to get a force out, but the tying run scored from third base. Sabo dropped the ball as he appeared to take it out of his glove to throw it, which prompted an argument from Missouri State assistant coach Paul Evans. Evans was serving as the head coach with Keith Guttin serving the second game of a three-game suspension for not leaving a game at Evansville in a prompt manner after getting ejected.
Evans was ejected by home plate umpire Scott Behn, which put the Bears in third-base coach Nate Thompson's hands the rest of the game. No matter. Williams struck out pinch hitter Matt Brown to end the eighth, but the Bears came up with two in the ninth to win their 16th straight Valley game.
Jake Hand homered in the third as part of a four-run inning to put the Salukis (23-24, 6-7) ahead, but SIU got one baserunner the last five innings. The Salukis had seven hits and left five on base.
Missouri State, which failed to homer for the first time in 17 games, had nine hits and stranded 10.
"Five runs is never comfortable enough against a team like that," Hand said. "Regardless of their ranking in our conference, in the country, or anything like that. Just, bottom line, they're a big-hitting team."
Williams walked leadoff man Hunter Steinmetz to start the ninth. Justin Paulsen then just missed a two-run home run off the wall in right-center field to put runners at second and third. The Salukis brought closer Ryan Netemeyer in to try to get out of the jam, but Jake Burger hit his second pitch to center field for a sacrifice fly and the go-ahead run. Jack Duffy's two-out RBI double provided the final margin.
Game 2 of the series is scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday because of the alumni golf outing.