Baseball takes two of three at SDSU


Josh Defibaugh

Freshman Ian Koch throws a complete game in Western’s Friday victory at South Dakota State.

Adam Feiner

BROOKINGS, S.D. — The Western Illinois baseball team headed to South Dakota this weekend to do battle with second-place South Dakota State. The Leathernecks won their first series since early April, winning Games 1 and 3 by scores of 5-1 and 3-1 respectively, and losing the second game 6-3.

Head coach Ryan Brownlee said the series victory couldn’t have come at a better time.

“Our guys showed a lot of heart and mental toughness all weekend,” Brownlee said. “Any time you go on the road and win a series, it’s huge. They (SDSU) made some unbelievable plays defensively. I told the guys to stay after it, because we were going to get something to turn our way.”

Freshman starter Ian Koch was a major factor in Friday’s 5-1 win for Western. The last time he faced SDSU, he was throttled for seven runs in the first inning. It was a complete turnaround in Brookings for the right-hander this time, as his complete game performance was highlighted by a career-high seven strikeouts.

“His command was tremendous,” Brownlee said of Koch. “He really only made one mistake and that was the home run ball to (Cody) Sharrow. Everything was down. He worked in and out. He changed speeds.”

The Western offense gave Koch plenty of support. The Leathernecks recorded 16 hits Friday, including four by Cord Church. The Lincoln Trail Community College transfer has broken back into the starting lineup the last two weeks with a few minor adjustments.

“My stance changed,” Church said. “I was off with my timing, but I’ve started to figure it out last weekend and now this weekend. My swing also came together. That’s back to where it used to be.”

Shortstop Chris Tschida and third baseman Mark Garton also contributed three hits and an RBI each for Western.

The Jackrabbits jumped out to an early 2-0 lead through three innings of Saturday’s game. A Tschida walk and a Deion Thompson hit-by-pitch set the table. After a sacrifice bunt by Adam McGinnis, Nick Schrader’s RBI single scored Tschida. Connor Currier smacked an RBI double to knot the game at two. Western took the lead on a throwing error by SDSU catcher Luke Ringhoffer.

The SDSU offense responded right back with three runs of its own in the bottom of the fourth inning to retake the lead, 5-3. They tacked on an insurance run the following inning. Reliever Landon Busch picked up his seventh win of the season with five strong innings of relief.

The Leathernecks have responded to adversity well all season long. That continued in Sunday’s rubber match. Matt Sturchio made his first start of the season, going five innings and allowing just two hits. The Jacks got on the board first on a two-out error by Chris Tschida. Through seven innings, SDSU starting pitcher Ryan Froom kept the Western offense in-check.

Finally, the bats woke up in the eighth inning for the Leathernecks. Roman Visintine led the frame off with a single, one of three hits in the game for the redshirt sophomore. Deion Thompson walked. Both Visintine and Thompson raced to third and second base, respectively, on a wild pitch. Adam McGinnis walked to load the bases. Nick Schrader executed a suicide squeeze bunt to score Visintine and tie the game.

Western took a 2-1 lead on a throwing error by third baseman Newt Johnson. Mark Garton added another run with an RBI single. Nate Westfahl closed the door on the SDSU offense. He struck out four and gave up just one hit in four innings of masterful relief work.

Western remains in fourth place in the Summit League. The Leathernecks will be in action tomorrow at Brownlee’s old stomping grounds, Iowa. The Leathernecks will hit the road next weekend for another tough test, this time against conference leader, Oral Roberts.