Baseball drops first Summit League series
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The Western Illinois baseball team (5-16, 3-3) dropped two of three home games to the North Dakota State Bison (8-15, 2-4) over the weekend. This was their second Summit League series of the season.
The Leathernecks opened with a 7-5 loss in the opening game of three on Friday. A slow start left Western clawing back the entire game.
The Bison started Friday’s game rolling on all cylinders. Beginning the game at the plate, NDSU finished the first inning with six hits. They used five singles and a double to jump out to an early 3-0 lead.
Western did not have any offense going until the bottom of the third. Momentum began to swing their way as back-to-back solo homeruns came from Mitch Ellis and Deion Thompson. The Leathernecks were able to put the pressure back on as they only trailed by one with six innings remaining.
After four scoreless innings from both teams, NDSU broke the drought with a single from pinch-hitter Mason Pierzchalski. NDSU led Western 4-2 after six innings.
The bottom of the eighth inning once again swung the momentum and had Leatherneck fans on their feet. After a single put Mitch Ellis on base, Deion Thompson came to the plate. Thompson hit his second homerun of the game to knot things up at four.
The eighth inning continued as Cord Church added another single. Western, who leads the Summit League in stolen bases this season, penciled in another one as Church swiped second with Steve McShane coming to the plate with just one out.
McShane came up huge. He laced a rocket to center and was able to plate Church to give the Leathernecks a 5-4 lead heading into the ninth.
A pitching change came for Western when Sam Cottingham- Beard came in for a save opportunity. The junior reliever was coming off his first win of the season last week against Fort Wayne, where he struck out almost every Mastadon hitter he saw.
Cottingham-Beard started off his day rough, walking his first opponent. Struggles continued for Cottingham-Beard when J.T. Core put runners at the corners with a single. Charley Hesse entered the game to pinch run for Core. The first out of the inning came after Ben Petersen placed a pop fly in center field.
Tension was palpable as Pierzchalski came to the plate. Pierzchalski did not disappoint for the Bison. He grounded out but was able to record another RBI when Drew Fearing scored from third and was replaced by Hesse.
Leatherneck fans were again at the edge of their seats with Logan Busch next in the batting order. When the second pitch from Cottingham-Beard soared towards the plate, Busch was able to smash the ball to record his third home run of the season to give North Dakota State a 7-5 lead.
The Bison turned to righthanded pitcher Kevin Folman to capture the victory. Connor Currier opened the inning at the plate. He was able to smash a ball into right field and advance to second. Next at the plate came Ellis, who grounded out but advanced Currier to third. Hopes began to rise as Thompson stepped up to the plate. Yet, those hopes fell short as Thompson struck out on a 2-2 count. The game ended on a Church ground out. The North Dakota State Bison recorded their second conference victory with a 7-5 final score.
The series resumed on Saturday afternoon for the second game. However, Saturday started quite differently than the previous matchup.
A quick top of the inning for the Leathernecks showed that they were primed and ready to redeem their loss on Friday.
Cord Church was the first athlete with an opportunity to start the day off strong offensively for Western. Church succeeded, recording a leadoff single. Adam McGinnis did the same two batters later and put Church into scoring position. A break for the Leathernecks came as Bison pitcher Reed Pfannenstein recorded a balk, which led to Church scoring and McGinnis advancing to second. McGinnis advanced to third after a ground out from Drue Galassi, but Western was not able to capitalize on the scoring position and only recorded one run in the inning.
Western’s day continued to get sweeter as they added three more runs at the bottom of the third inning.
Church’s hot game continued when he opened with a double. Roman Visintine came next and was walked. Momentum was clearly on Western’s side when McGinnis nailed a double into left field to bring home Church and McGinnis. The Leathernecks held a comfortable 5-0 lead after adding another run due to a throwing error from North Dakota State.
“Offensively, we obviously did a good job of scoring runs when we needed to,” said Western Illinois head baseball coach Ryan Brownlee. “It was a different day offensively today, which worked out a little more in our favor today than yesterday.”
It was obvious that the Leathernecks were feeling it on the offensive end, but a major development in this game was the pitching of senior Preston Church. Church only allowed two hits in his eight innings played. He also recorded 10 strikeouts to cement his career day against the Bison. After missing games last year due to injury, this was Church’s first game that he began to hit his groove.
“That’s as sharp as he’s been in a long time,” Brownlee said on his starting pitcher. “We can tell he’s feeling healthy, very composed and he just never gave them a chance. He never allowed them to get in any sort of rhythm at all and we made some really good plays behind him.”
Church allowed his first hit in the second inning and no batter even got close to the ball until the top of the eighth when he surrendered a home run to J.T. Core. Core’s home run was the only offense that NDSU could muster in game two as Western prevailed 5-1.
The Leathernecks fell just short of another conference series win in the rubber match against the Bison on Sunday. The story of the day was pitching for both sides. The only run of the game came on a Fearing single for NDSU in the top of the ninth inning.
Javin Drake got the start for Western and was nothing short of outstanding. The freshman logged six shutout innings and surrendered just four hits on the afternoon. Unfortunately for Drake and Western, Bison starter Jordan Harms was just as effective.
Harms also posted six innings of shutout baseball and struck out seven Leathernecks. Neither starter made in into the later third of the game and both settled for no decisions.
Nate Westfahl pitched the final three innings for Western and surrendered the RBI-single to Fearing to ultimately tell the tale. Despite picking up his third loss of the season, Westfahl looked sharp out of the bullpen. He struck out three Bison hitters and surrendered just one walk.
The Leathernecks had just one more chance to bring someone home and tie the game at one. The bottom of the ninth began with a leadoff walk, but Western couldn’t do anything with it. Bison reliever Kevin Folman, who entered the game in the seventh, struck out Chris Tschida and Conner Currier to ensure the 1-0 shutout.
The Leathernecks will now conclude their home stand with a single game against Bradley on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Western will now hit the road for a eightgame road stand that will begin with a three-game series against Summit League opponent Oral Roberts (16-7, 6-0) on Friday.