Duffy Bass field (Photo Courtesy of GoRedbirds.com)
By WJBC staff
After taking the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title from Wichita State with a final-weekend sweep at Southern Illinois, the Illinois State baseball team couldn’t do the same in the conference tournament, falling, 5-2, to the second-seeded Shockers in the championship game, Saturday night at a cool and rainy Duffy Bass Field.
ISU (39-19) entered the championship game 3-0 in the tournament, outscoring its opposition 22-5, and on an eight-game winning streak. However, WSU (39-26) starter Cale Elam (WP, 7-4) stymied the Redbird offense over 7.0 innings, allowing just two runs while striking out seven to leading the Shockers to their 18th tournament title.
Catcher Mike Hollenbeck led the Redbirds offensively, going 3-for-4 with two doubles and two runs scored. In ISU’s four MVC Tournament games, he went 6-for-14. MVC Pitcher of the Year Chris Razo (8-2) equaled his season-high by allowing three runs in 6.0 innings.
The Shockers struck first with a lone tally in their first at-bat. With runners on first and third and one out, Casey Gillaspie beat out a potential double play ball to bring home Garrett Bayliff and make it 1-0 WSU. Wichita State continued the early offensive barrage with one more in the second inning. Mikel Mucha started the inning with a bloop single to left, before Micah Green scored him with a double down the left field line. Razo retired the next three Shockers, however, leaving a two-run deficit for the Redbirds through an inning and a half.
ISU bounced back with one in the bottom half of the second. Hollenbeck doubled down the left field line with two outs for the Redbirds’ first base runner of the game, before Brock Stewart came through with a single up the middle to score Hollenbeck and make it 2-1 WSU.
The Shockers threatened to score for the third straight inning in the third, loading the bases with nobody out on a hit and two walks. However, Razo buckled down, recording two strikeouts and a fielder’s choice to get out of the inning unscathed.
After ISU went one-two-three in the bottom half of the third, the Shockers tacked on another run in the fourth. Erik Harbutz led off with a single, before advancing to second on a groundout. Razo induced a pop up for the second out of the inning, but Garrett Bayliff singled up the middle to plate Harbutz and increase WSU’s lead to 3-1.
After recording his first one-two-three inning of the night in the fifth, Razo worked out of another jam in the sixth. Harbutz laced a one-out single to right center to draw the ISU infield in. Zac Johnson made a backhanded play on a ground ball to third, before Razo got Tanner Dearman swinging with a breaking ball in the dirt to end the inning.
Jeremy Rhoades relieved Razo to begin the seventh, and the Shockers promptly loaded the bases with no outs for the second time in the contest. Unlike the third, WSU took advantage, scoring twice to increase the lead to 5-1. Johnny Coy singled to bring home two, before Rhoades recorded a fielder’s choice and double play to end the threat.
ISU responded with a lone tally in the bottom of the seventh. Hollenbeck doubled to right center and moved to third on a single by Stewart. DeJong brought home Hollenbeck with a deep sacrifice fly to center, before pinch hitter Joe Kelch singled to make put runners on first and second with two outs for Brett Kay. Kay struck out looking on a 2-2 breaking ball to end the inning, leaving the score 5-2 moving to the eighth.
The Redbirds placed five players on the All-Tournament team: Dan Savas, Kay, Chad HInshaw, Kyle Stanton and Hollenbeck. Redshirt freshman Paul DeJong was given the Elite 18 Award for having the highest individual GPA at the championship.
ISU will learn if its season continues Monday, May 27, during the Division I Baseball Selection Show on ESPNU at 11 a.m. The Redbirds have not received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament in program history.