NORMAL — Mike Hollenbeck had hoped to win the game with his bat. Instead, he did it with his eyes.
Hollenbeck checked his swing on a full count curve ball that dipped low to force in Sean Beesley with the winning run Friday for a 3-2 Illinois State victory over Southern Illinois in 12 tense innings at Duffy Bass Field.
"I had rough day at the plate. I was just trying to get back into it and see the ball up," Hollenbeck said. "When it got to 3-0 I was taking two strikes all the way. he threw me a 3-2 curve and I let it go."
The Redbirds improved to 27-12 overall and 8-5 in the Missouri Valley Conference.
"The atmosphere was awesome," Hollenbeck said. "It felt like it was a very important game and it was. It was big win for our program and in the conference standings."
Brock Stewart (2-1) was the winning pitcher with 3 2/3 innings of stellar relief. He entered in the ninth and extracted starter Dan Savas from a first and third with one out jam.
"My mentality is you're not going to beat me and I'm going to get you out," Stewart said of his longest outing since high school. "I just try to throw strikes and let everything else work for me."
Paul DeJong gave ISU a 2-1 lead in the fifth with a mammouth two-run homer off Southern starter Sam Coonrod with Beesley aboard.
Southern (21-21, 3-10) tied it with a run in the sixth.
Savas struck out 11 and walked four in 8 1/3 innings. Coonrod had six strikeouts and one walk in seven frames.
ISU finally got to reliever Kyle Pauly in the 12th on singles from Dennis Colon and Daniel Dwyer.
"Both teams played really well.. Both sides had great pitching," ISU coach Mark Kingston. "All four guys who pitched made a ton of big pitches. Either team could have won that game. I'm just glad we could pull it out."
The series continues with a 2 p.m. game Saturday. The 1969 and 1994 ISU teams will be honored before the game.
The 1969 squad won the College Division national championship, while the '94 team was the first in ISU history to play in the NCAA Division I Tournament.