Today, last night and Sunday, SIU baseball (18-14 overall and 4-2 in MVC play) takes on No. 25 Dallas Baptist in Dallas in a key conference tilt. The Patriots just defeated No. 4 Texas Tech last week, so the series will be a grind.
But in SIU's 5-3 win over the EIU Panthers Tuesday, the Salukis showed the way forward: great relief pitching that stifled two different attempts by EIU to get back into the game in the middle innings.
SIU's Alex Gutermuth came to the mound in the top of the sixth with two Panther runners on base and only one out. The Dawgs led by the winning score of 5-3 at that point, but it looked like the momentum had turned. However, Gutemuth somehow preserved that lead.
A similar thing occurred the next inning. The Panthers got a single and a walk to put runners at first and second with no outs. But Alex Montgomery came in for SIU and put three straight EIU batters back on the bench to again save the 5-3 lead.
"Gutermuth and Montgomery both came through in relief to get us out of jams," SIU head coach Ken Henderson said.
And let's not forget Ryan Netemeyer. He completed the game with a cleanly pitched ninth inning to get his fifth save of the 2018 season. It wasn't just the relief pitching. SIU starter Dylan Givens and Saluki hitters also played a big part in the win.
Givens had his longest start this season with 4.5 innings of work. Henderson is trying to ease him into being one of four trusted starters that the coach eventually can use in the upcoming MVC tourney.
"Dylan did a good job, and he went further than he has all year," Henderson said.
Givens showed some signs of becoming a dominant pitcher by striking out the side on only 10 pitches in the first inning. The Dawgs only had nine hits, b
ut according to Henderson, they could have had more.
"I think we were better offensively than our stats show -- especially early in the game," Henderson said. "We hit some balls really hard, but at their fielders."
Usually SIU has gotten most of its offensive fireworks from the top three or four hitters in the line-up. But in this game, the top three batters went 0-of-9, while the rest of the line-up went a healthy 9-of-21. Grey Epps had a good chunk of those nine hits with a three-for-four day at the plate. Epps is really coming along.
"We thought Grey would turn into a great hitter," Henderson said. "He just got off to a slow start this season.
Hopefully both he and his teammates brought their bats, pitching and momentum when they boarded the airplane last Thursday for their flight into the Lone Star State.