CARBONDALE — Illinois State rode Colton Johnson's five shutout innings and a five-run sixth to a series-opening win at SIU Friday night.
Jack Butler and Tyson Hays both drove in four runs to steer the Redbirds to an 11-3 victory at Jones Stadium in the first game of a four-game set. Johnson (2-0), a 6-foot-4, 222-pound graduate lefty, scattered five singles over five innings to pick up his second win of the season. The 2020 Missouri Valley Conference strikeout leader only fanned four in his shortest outing of the season — he'd gone at least six innings in all of his five previous starts — but shut the Salukis down to lower his ERA to 1.85.
"I felt like we had opportunities early in the game, offensively, we just didn't get a big hit," SIU coach Lance Rhodes said. "It was one of those things where we drove a couple balls to the wall, had baserunners all over the place, we just didn't get a big hit to kind of tie the game up there."
SIU (19-4, 3-2 MVC) loaded the bases three times but didn't score until the bottom of the sixth inning under clear skies and temperatures in the low 50s. The Salukis had 12 hits, all singles, and stranded 17 baserunners.
Lefty Tanner Lewis (3-1) gave up a home run in the first but settled down in his first start as a Saluki, allowing four runs in 5 2/3 innings off five hits. It was 2-0 in the top of the sixth before the Redbirds (9-14, 1-0) blew the game open with five runs off three hits.
Lewis gave up a single and walked Ryan Cermak to put two on with two outs. With Lewis at 99 pitches, the Salukis pulled him for righty Noah Farmer, who hit Nick Gile on his first pitch to load the bases. Kyle Soberano, ISU's No. 9 hitter that finished with three hits, nearly unloaded them with a hard ground ball up the middle.
One run scored, and another came home safely when catcher Austin Ulick dropped shortstop Nick Neville's throw from near second base that bounced in front of the plate. Farmer then walked in a run, which put ISU up 5-0, when he missed on a full-count delivery to Butler.. Farmer got two strikes on Hays, but the senior catcher hit his 2-2 pitch to straight-away center to score Soberano and Aidan Huggins for a 7-0 lead.
"And when we made the pitching change, it kind of snowballed on us, and they had that big inning," Rhodes said.
Ulick went 4 for 5 at the plate, driving in a run, but SIU couldn't put enough hits together to make it interesting. The Salukis loaded the bases with nobody out in the seventh, but couldn't score. J.T. Weber flew out to right, Ulick struck out swinging, and Cody Cleveland struck out to end the threat.
The Salukis dropped their third straight game after losing their last two against Little Rock last weekend.
"It seems like luck didn't go your way whenever you're in a funk, and there's nobody we can look to but ourselves," Rhodes said. "We've got to figure out ourselves. We've gotta play better in pressure moments."
The two teams are scheduled to play a doubleheader Saturday beginning at 2 p.m. The first game is scheduled for seven innings, but if it goes into extra innings and reaches a ninth frame, the second game will be a minimum of seven innings. Both games are scheduled to air on ESPN3.
618-351-5087 / On Twitter: @THefferman