CARBONDALE — The No. 22-ranked Southern Illinois University baseball team rallied for three runs in the eighth inning and opened an 11-game homestand Friday night with a 10-7 victory over Arkansas-Little Rock at Itchy Jones Stadium.
The Salukis (19-1) came into the game with 18 wins, which was then tied for the most in the nation with the University of Tennessee, and had most recently thumped Southeast Missouri State, 21-4, on the road Wednesday.
Little Rock, which owns a win over Auburn this season, was coming off a sweep of Sun Belt favorite Texas State. The Trojans are now 9-8 and play the Salukis twice more this weekend.
SIU's winning runs in the eighth came from a sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Grey Epps that scored J.T. Weber and a two-run blast by Ian Walters for some cushion before Trey McDaniel recorded the final three outs.
Little Rock struck first when Kenny Rodriguez blasted a three-run homer over the fence in the deepest part of center field in the second inning. Had its angle been just a bit sharper, Tristan Peters was ready with a leaping attempt at the wall, but the ball had too much distance and the Trojans had a 3-0 lead against Saluki starter Mike Hansell.
SIU took the lead in the third inning against Little Rock starter Aaron Funk, who was named the Sun Belt Conference's preseason Pitcher of the Year, with two-run singles by Evan Martin and Peters. Martin's hit was a seemingly harmless chopper to the right side after fouling off several pitches to protect the plate with a two-strike count against Funk. It scored Walters and Cody Cleveland, who both drew walks from the deliberate righthander.
The Trojans briefly tied it in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Kobe Barnum after Miguel Soto doubled down the third-base line and advanced on a passed ball. They possibly would've added more if not for a sensational diving catch by Peters to end the inning.
In the bottom half, SIU took the lead on an RBI single by Cleveland and a sac fly by Walters that scored Weber. The frame started with Philip Archer, Weber and Austin Ulick all drawing walks against a pair of relievers.
Little Rock tied it at 6-6 with one out in the fifth on a two-run homer by center fielder Tyler Williams.
The Salukis went back in front in the bottom half on designated hitter Vinni Massagalia's eighth homer of the season, a high-arching blast to left field.
SIU head coach Lance Rhodes rolled the dice with lefty Tanner Lewis as his first out of the bullpen and Lewis tossed a scoreless frame but then a gamble throw a hit by Jorden Hussein with two runners aboard allowed the tying run in the seventh.
The Trojans were denied a chance to take the lead in the eighth when Weber, the Salukis' left fielder, gunned down a runner trying to score on a hit by Rodriguez, who was then stranded when SIU reliever McDaniel struck out Eldridge Figueroa.
Archer started the bottom of the eighth with a single to left field, but was erased when Weber's bunt was too hard and forced out the lead runner.
Ulick followed with a laser to right for a hit, moving Weber to second. The first pitch to the next batter, Epps, went to the backstop to advance both runners into scoring position.
Epps then lifted a 2-1 pitch to center field. Williams made the catch for the Trojans, but his throw home was off the line and Weber scored from third to put the Salukis ahead.
Walters followed with a two-run homer over the right-field fence, his fifth roundtripper of the season, for some insurance.
The series continues Saturday at 2 p.m. and concludes Sunday at 1 p.m.