CARBONDALE — Valparaiso got its first complete game in almost a year on Saturday, shutting down the Southern Illinois University baseball team, winning 6-2 in a reversal of the score in Friday's opener.
"Just a bad day," said Salukis coach Ken Henderson. "It happens, who knows why, we weren’t very good in any area of the game. It started when we gave them five outs in the first inning when we weren’t good on defense. We walk eight guys and we weren’t very good on offense, so we just had a bad day."
SIU (16-14, 3-2 MVC) came into the game having won two in a row and six of its last seven after getting a complete game from Michael Baird to get the series off to a good start.
However, Saturday’s game was just the opposite with senior right-hander Trey Ferketic tossing Valparaiso’s first complete game since April 23rd, 2017 holding the high-scoring Salukis to just two runs on nine hits.
Ferketic also snapped Saluki leadoff batter Nikola Vasic’s 27-game on-base streak by holding the junior second baseman to two ground outs, a fly ball to deep center field and striking him out looking in the eighth.
On the flip side, Valparaiso left-fielder Blake Billinger, who had two hits Friday, had his best game of the season, going 5-for-5 with two runs scored. The junior’s previous best was three hits twice on Feb. 18 against Alabama and March 3 against Grand Canyon.
The Crusaders took the early lead when the Saluki defense let down SIU’s starting pitcher Jamison Steege in the first inning. With one out, Sam Shaikin hit a high pop fly that center fielder Brad Hudson dropped just beyond the second base bag as he ran in.
Billinger followed with a hard hit ground ball past third baseman Grey Epps to put runners at the corners. Steege had a chance to get out of the inning without a run being scored when Giovanni Garbella hit a ground ball to Kopach near the second base bag, but he had trouble getting the ball out of the glove and could only get the force of Billinger at second, allowing Shaikin to score.
Steege (4-2) then walked Brent Jones, who was hitting .200, on a 3-2 pitch and gave up an infield hit to Chad Jacobs to load the bases with two outs, but got out of the jam by getting Scott Kapers on a fly ball to right.
SIU roared back taking the lead in the bottom of the frame on a leadoff double by Logan Blackfan and home run to right by Drew Curtis that just missed the scoreboard. For the senior designated hitter the blast was his second of the series and third of the season.
Steege was still trying to find his stuff in the second inning issuing a one-out walk to the ninth man in the batting order. However, this time he and his defense bailed him out on a comebacker off the bat of Dawson that Steege gloved and threw to Kopach to start a 1-6-3 double play.
The score remained 2-1 as the Salukis wasted one-out hits in both the third and fourth innings and Steege found his rhythm pitching out of a two-on, no outs jam in the third to retire the next six in a row heading into the fifth inning.
The streak ended in the fifth when Chase Dawson led off with a base hit to right. One out later, Billinger lined Steege’s first pitch to left center for a ground rule double giving the Salukis a break as Dawson would have scored easily.
However, the break didn’t last long. Steege fell behind 2-0 to designated hitter Garbella, who lived up to his position by hitting the next pitch over the right field wall for his fourth home run of the season.
One out later, Steege walked Chad Jacob on four pitches and gave up a single to left to Scott Kapers before issuing back-to-back walks to the eighth and ninth men in the batting order to force in another run and send him to showers with Allen Montgomery relieving him of his pitching duties.
Montgomery needed just two pitches to end the rally on a pop fly to right, but the Crusaders scored four runs on four hits and three walks to take a 5-2 lead.
In the bottom of the fifth, Hudson gave the Salukis a chance to cut into the lead with a one-out ground rule double, but Hudson was picked off second on a snap throw by the catcher and Vasic flew out to deep center.
Ferketic pitched around a two-out walk in the sixth and two-out double followed by a walk in the eighth. In the ninth, the Salukis had runners on first and third with two outs, but Ferketic got Hudson to hit a ground ball to short for a fielder’s choice to end the game.
The rubber game of the series will start at 1 p.m. today with sophomore left-hander Brad Harrison slated to take mound for the Salukis, sporting a 3-1 record with a 3.29 ERA.