CARBONDALE —It took three years for Justin Yeager to pick up his first win for SIU’s baseball team.
It barely took minutes for the game ball to find its way into his hands, courtesy of quick-thinking pitching coach P.J. Finigan.
“Felt pretty good,” he said minutes after the Salukis’ 7-6 win over SIU Edwardsville Tuesday at Itchy Jones Stadium. “Coach Fin just got me the ball.”
Yeager (1-1) retired six straight hitters, including all three he faced in the sixth to mop up a mess left by Noah Farmer. He failed to retire any of the four hitters he saw after inheriting a 5-3 lead from starter Mason Hiser.
Yeager was the pitcher of record when SIU (11-8) took the lead for good in an odd fashion in the bottom of the seventh. With the bases loaded and one out, Nikola Vasic took a fastball off the back of his hand from reliever Cole Milam to force Philip Archer home and snap a 6-6 tie.
After tiring and walking Justin Perkins to start the eighth, Yeager watched Sam Grace and Trey McDaniel protect the edge. Grace used a strikeout and 6-4-3 double play ball to end the eighth, and McDaniel worked around a pair of one-out singles in the ninth for his sixth save in eight chances.
The ending was a bit too close for comfort. All-OVC catcher Brock Weimer rifled a 2-2 pitch deep to center, but Addison Fugitt got a good jump and ran down the drive just shy of the warning track in left-center, ending the 2-hour, 58-minute struggle.
“I thought our approach to the game was as good as it’s been in a long time,” Salukis coach Ken Henderson said. “We’ve got some adversity on the club right now with the injuries and we faced some adversity during the game today, but at no point did our demeanor change. We just kept grinding.”
SIU lost two-thirds of its starting outfield when it dropped a doubleheader Saturday at Illinois. Alex Lyon and Will LaRue both suffered injuries which kept them out of the lineup Tuesday. Henderson is hoping that Lyon will be available Friday when Ohio Valley Conference preseason favorite Morehead State visits, but isn’t as sure about LaRue’s availability for the weekend.
Henderson was more certain about the ability of Yeager, who has battled injuries at times during his Saluki career but has pitched to a 2.84 earned run average in 28 games, fanning 36 hitters in 31 2/3 innings.
“He’s a guy we’ve got to have,” Henderson said of the 6-5, 215-pound righthander from Plainfield, Ill. “He’s a guy who when he throws strikes, has the best stuff on our team. If he commands his fastball, he’s not going to get hit hard.”
As is often the case in mid-week games, offense was the storyline. SIU scored in five different innings, but couldn’t hang on to 3-1 and 5-3 leads. The Cougars (6-11) took a short-lived 6-5 lead with their sixth inning rally, which featured a two-run shot from Perkins on the first pitch after Farmer plunked Raul Elguezabal with an 0-2 offering.
Ian Walters’ RBI single tied the game in the bottom of the sixth, and Vasic’s painful go-ahead RBI provided the winning margin.
“Any way you can get them, I guess,” a grinning Vasic said.
Catcher Aiden McMahan (Shawnee) supplied two hits and an RBI, while J.T. Weber (Massac County) drove in a pair of runs and hit the ball far better than a 1 for 4 game suggests. His sacrifice fly and two of his outs were barreled up, but ended up as tough-luck outs.
Hiser permitted four hits and three runs, two earned, over five innings with no walks and three strikeouts.