NORMAL — J.D. Learnard doesn’t mind working on Sunday, and Kenny Long’s late-inning labor produced a school record at Duffy Bass Field.
Learnard notched a key Missouri Valley Conference series-concluding victory for the second week in a row to guide Illinois State to a 4-1 victory over Indiana State.
“That’s why he gets the ball on Sunday. He’s very mature and a tremendous competitor,” ISU coach Mark Kingston said. “We talk about it all the time. Sunday baseball is extremely important. We feel like he’s going to give us everything he’s got.”
The Redbirds took the series two games to one while improving to 27-13 overall and 7-5 in the Valley. Indiana State slipped to 22-20 and 4-8 in league play.
Learnard (5-2) faced the minimum over five innings as an infield single and a walk were both erased by catcher Matt Mirabal gunning down Sycamore runners attempting to steal.
Robby Ort doubled and scored in the seventh for the only run off Learnard in 6 2/3 innings.
“I like coming out knowing you can make a difference and getting a win is big,” said the sophomore right-hander. “I didn’t really throw a lot of off-speed stuff. I was getting ground balls, and the defense was tough behind me.”
After yet another stellar inning of set-up relief from Justin Hauer, Long secured the final out of the eighth before tiptoeing through a dramatic ninth.
An error, a bunt single and a two-out infield single brought the go-ahead run to the plate before Long painted the outside corner with a 1-2 slider to fan Tyler Wampler.
The save was the fourth of the season and 13th of Long’s career to snap a tie with current Baltimore Orioles hurler Jeremy Accardo for the record.
“It means a lot. There have been a ton of great pitchers come through this program, and the guy I took the record from is playing in the majors,” Long said. “It’s really an honor to have the record for my own.”
The Redbirds had nine hits through six innings, but the only runs came in the fourth. Josh Colon, who has 7-for-9 in the series, singled home Ryan Court. Zach Amrein’s double into the right-field corner chased home Colon.
ISU scratched out single runs in the seventh and eighth.
Chad Hinshaw was hit by a seventh-inning pitch, stole second, took third on Court’s infield single and scored on a wild pitch.
Bryan Huff singled in the eighth, continued to second on Kevin Tokarski’s infield single, sprinted to third on a passed ball that rolled just a few feet from catcher Jeremy Lucas and came home when Lucas’ throw to third went awry.
“We got just enough. We would normally expect to get more runs when getting 12 hits,” said Kingston. “Winning this series against a quality opponent is big.”
Jason Van Skike, the first of six Indiana State pitchers, dropped to 3-3 with the loss.
ILLINOIS STATE 4, INDIANA STATE 1
Indiana State 000 000 100-1-6-1
Illinois State 000 200 110-4-12-1
Van Skike (L, 3-3), Merkley (5), Hochstedler (5), Drake (6), Flora (7), Machado (8) and Lucas. Learnard (W, 5-2), Hauer (7), Long (8, S, 4).
ILLINOIS STATE — 2B — Amrein. RBI — Amrein, Colon. Two or more hits — Colon 3, Tokarski 2, Court 2, McNeely 2. Pitching — Learnard (6.2 IP, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO), Hauer (1 IP, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 SO), Long (1.1 IP, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 SO).
Records – Indiana State 22-20, 4-8 in MVC; Illinois State 27-13, 7-5 in MVC.