CARBONDALE — SIU's first mid-week baseball game featured 19 runs, 26 hits, four errors and 19 baserunners left on, but was ultimately decided by two incredible defensive plays Tuesday night.
Eastern Illinois had four outs to score two runs in the top of the ninth at Jones Stadium, and came painstakingly close to doing so. Trey McDaniel, the Salukis' fifth pitcher of the night, struck out Keith Kerrigan for the first out and punched out Gunner Smith for what should have been the second out. Smith reached when McDaniel's wild pitch got away from catcher Austin Ulick. McDaniel then caught Dane Toppel's ground ball near the mound, turned to second base to go for the inning-ending double play, and threw the ball into center field.
The Panthers put the tying runs on base with one out, and after scoring three runs in the second, and three runs in the fourth, looked capable of putting those two across.
"I was hoping it wasn't going to be a thing where we had to hit last tonight, and, luckily, we had Dylan Givens come in there in the middle of the innings and kind of keep their offense at bay, which gave us a chance," SIU coach Lance Rhodes said, referring to Givens' relief effort in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
Logan Eickhoff, EIU's leadoff hitter, doubled home pinch runner Lucas Diluca from second, but Saluki shortstop Nick Neville and Ulick made sure that was all the Panthers got. Neville caught J.T. Weber's throw from left field just outside the infield turf, and fired to Ulick at the plate to cut down Toppel. And in a brief game of whatever-you-can-do-I-can-do-better, third baseman Ian Walters ended SIU's 10-9 victory with a diving stop of Grant Emme's ground ball in the hole, popped up, and delivered a strike across the diamond.
"I just knew it was a play that I was going to have to dive for," said Walters, who went 2 for 5 at the plate with an RBI in SIU's best start since the 1977 season. "Didn't know if I was going to get there or not, but, just trying all I could to get it, and luckily I did."
Rhodes was happy to see his club keep the bats in the dugout in the bottom half of the ninth. The Salukis (4-0) trailed 4-0 in the second inning, went up 6-3 in the third, and had to overcome four errors to win. Two of the errors came from pitchers, McDaniel and Noah Farmer (2-0). Farmer got the win after allowing one run off two hits in 1 1/3 innings.
"We had some blunders tonight," Rhodes said. "We had a few, but it's early. When you talk about those two plays back-to-back, those are just game-changing plays, and then to be able to do two in a row was an incredible way to end the game," Rhodes said.
Right fielder Brad Hudson drove in three runs for SIU. Neville and first baseman Phillip Archer both drove in two.
The Salukis are next at Mercer this weekend for a three-game series. First pitch in Macon, Georgia, is scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday.
On Twitter: @THefferman