When SIU's baseball team won this year, Trey McDaniel was usually a part of it at the end.
Thursday's elimination game victory over Missouri State at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in Normal was no different. OK, it was a lot different.
McDaniel, the Salukis' new closer after the end of Ryan Netemeyer's record reign, entered Thursday's game at Bass Field with a 10-7 lead. Starter Blake Begner allowed four runs in 6 2/3 innings, his longest outing in nearly two months, and SIU was hoping set-up man Justin Yeager would be able to close out a 10-5 victory when he took the mound in the ninth. He was not.
John Privitera reached on an error by second baseman Nikola Vasic and went to third on Jack Duffy's double into the left field-center gap. Brooks Zimmerman doubled home both of them with another shot into the left-center gap to cut SIU's lead to 10-7.
Missouri State, which finished 20-36, its worst record in years, battled injuries and pitching woes like most of the league. They're still the Bears. SIU pulled Yeager for McDaniel, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound sophomore who earned his 13th save of the year in the Salukis' only other victory at the tournament Tuesday night against Bradley.
McDaniel threw two pitches to Dakota Kotowski, the MVC's freshman of the year, and watched him sail the third over the wall in left-center for a two-run homer. Suddenly, SIU's plans to play somebody on Friday were on hold, and its eight seniors were holding their breath a bit to see if McDaniel could end another one.
With nobody out, and Missouri State's cleanup hitter due up, things got dicey quickly. I glanced over at the SIU bullpen just west of left field. There was no one there. The Salukis were rolling with McDaniel, and whatever happened.
McDaniel got Logan Geha, a second baseman who entered earlier in the game, to pop out to first for the first out. Drew Millas, who came a triple short of the cycle that afternoon, became the tying run when he singled to right. All I could think about was the 12 guys SIU stranded. The 5-0 lead in the bottom of the second. And how this was how it was going to end for the 2019 Salukis.
McDaniel went full count with Mason Hull before delivering a slider that slightly tailed away from the righty. And when Hull threw his bat to the right and headed up the basepath, home plate umpire Jason Stidham punched him out.
"We had a three-run lead, and I just wanted to treat the first guy like there was nobody on," said McDaniel, who wrapped up save No. 14, one off the single-season school record set by Netemeyer in 2017. "From there, it was just a blur. I was just in the moment."
You and me, both, Trey. You and me, both.
Kudos to Coonrod: Sam Coonrod, longtime SIU coach Dan Callahan's last recruit before he passed away, made his Major League Baseball debut Sunday with the San Francisco Giants.
The big righty from Carrollton entered in the eighth inning of the Giants' 6-2 loss to Arizona and threw a perfect frame. A fifth-round draft pick in 2014, Tommy John surgery knocked Coonrod out of the entire 2018 season but he started 2019 on the Giants' 40-man roster. He began the season with Triple-A Sacramento, where he posted 30 strikeouts in 18 innings.
Before getting called up, the former Saluki starter had allowed no runs off just two hits in his previous five outings.
"He's been throwing the ball very well," San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy told Maria Guardado in a story on SFGiants.com. "He's mainly a one-inning guy, but he could go a couple for us. We need some help with our bullpen situation."
The Giants (21-31) started a three-game series at Miami on Tuesday night.