CARBONDALE — Chad Whitmer shut down the second-highest scoring offense in the Ohio Valley Conference to help SIU's baseball team take the first game of a doubleheader against Tennessee Tech Saturday, 6-4.
The Golden Eagles jumped on Michael Baird for eight runs and 11 hits in less than five innings in the second game, but the Salukis rallied for a 10-9 win in the bottom of the ninth to sweep the doubleheader. Game 3 is scheduled for 1 p.m. today.
Whitmer (4-3), who was named the Missouri Valley Conference pitcher of the week Monday after striking out a career-high 13 batters, scattered nine hits over 7 1/3 innings for his third win in his last four decisions. The senior right-hander struck out six and walked one to end the Eagles' five-game winning streak. Tennessee Tech (30-11) came into the series averaging 8.7 runs a game, but got only two earned runs against the Salukis' Friday night starter that has turned out two of his best outings of the season this month.
"I think he got tired of not being as good as he can be," SIU coach Ken Henderson said. "He got back to some basics, and he's just worked himself back into the guy that we know he can be. When you work hard, you're gonna have success, and that's what he's done the last two weeks."
Whitmer allowed a run in the first and avoided the big inning the Golden Eagles were looking for in the sixth with a three-pitch strikeout of designated hitter Cody Littlejohn. Whitmer struck out Matt Jones with back-to-back sliders for the second out of the inning, but the Eagles closed the gap to 5-3 off David Garza's RBI single to right field. Collin Harris hit a slider away into right to load the bases, but Whitmer went right after Littlejohn, the No. 9 hitter, and escaped with the two-run lead.
"I had that run there in the first, and after that, I kind of decided that I needed to settle in and command the zone a bit better," Whitmer said. "Obviously, that inning didn't work out as well, but I was able to get the strikeout there at the end, which helped a lot."
SIU (20-20), got one back in the bottom of the seventh and rode relivers Alex Gutermuth and Ryan Netemeyer to the win. Gutermuth got the last two outs of the eighth in nine pitches, and Netemeyer nailed down his 12th save of the season with a perfect ninth inning. Netemeyer's 12th save moved him within five of tying the school record for career saves (30), set by Bryant George in 2010.
Tennessee Tech, ranked 26th in the nation by Collegiate Baseball, pounded out 14 hits in the second game. All but three came against Baird, who has now allowed 21 runs, all earned, in his last three outings. SIU's beleaguered offense rallied with two outs in the ninth against Ethan Roberts for an improbable win.
Down to their last out, the Salukis got a double from Logan Blackfan, a bloop single from Nick Hutchins, and a walk-off double from Jake Hand to win the series. Hand's shot down the left-field line went all the way to the wall, and Hutchins, running from first base, slid in without a play. Hutchins lost his helmet after scoring the run, and joined the swarm of maroon jerseys rushing toward Hand to celebrate SIU's first walk-off win since Greg Lambert's three-run home run beat Evansville April 1.
Johnston City native Austin McPheron opened the door to the Salukis' rally, pitching 4 1/3 innings of shutout ball after coming into the game in the fifth.
"You guys know how good they are, offensively, and what their numbers are, and they got guys that can swing it," Henderson said. "Great job by Whit again, and Netemeyer. And Gutermuth. Same thing with McPheron. We were down 9-5, and that's an area where we have not been good. When we get down, we usually don't throw up zeroes and let teams expand the lead on it, and those are those games that have been getting away from us."