NORMAL — Putting the ball in play was step one. Yet after Illinois State's Ryan Hutchinson bounced a Kragen Kechely pitch toward the shortstop, another priority immediately arose.
"I'm just thinking run for my freaking life," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson did and barely beat out a potential inning-ending double play grounder as Jordan Libman carried the winning run home from third to hand the Redbirds a thrilling 4-3 victory over Dallas Baptist in 11 innings Sunday at Duffy Bass Field.
"It's an unbelievable feeling to win this game," said Hutchinson. "It's a good thing I can run a little bit or we would still be playing right now."
The Redbirds (11-15, 2-4 in the MVC) saw leads slip away in losses Friday and Saturday before snapping a 13-game losing streak to the preseason league favorites.
"To figure out a way to do that today when we needed to do it and get back into respectable standing with Dallas Baptist in our rear view mirror, that was unbelievably huge for us," ISU coach Bo Durkac said.
Libman had drawn a one-out walk before Kechely replaced Parker Towns on the mound. With Libman running on a full-count pitch, Nick Zouras singled to right field as Libman raced around to third.
Hutchinson then took on a pitcher who had struck him out in a key situation Friday.
"I was very frustrated after Friday," said ISU's first baseman. "With the same guy coming in, I was going to try to hit the fastball. I put it in play and made something happen."
The Redbirds had turned to freshman right-hander Connor Peplow for the top of the 11th. Peplow had allowed nine earned runs over 3⅔ innings in four previous appearances for a cumbersome 22.09 ERA.
After a leadoff double to Kody Funderburk, Peplow retired the next three batters on a ground out and two fly balls. Center fielder John Rave preserved the tie game with a sliding catch on the warning track for the third out.
"I hadn't done well in the past. But I kept working, and they needed me in that situation," Peplow said. "I used to be in that situation a lot in high school. I'm glad Coach gave me the chance to do it and I just did it. After the first pitch, I wasn't nervous at all."
Redbird reliever Braden Niksich was one out from saving a 3-1 win when Evan Sandmann's line single to center brought home Tim Millard and Jimmy Glowenke with the tying runs in the ninth.
Still, Durkac was elated with the efforts of his pitching staff. Led by starter Matt Walker's one unearned run in six innings, ISU hurlers surrendered just eight hits and three walks in 11 innings.
"You can't pitch any better against that team than what we did today," said Durkac. "For a team that has really, really, really struggled to give up three runs in 11 innings to that team ... If you do that nationally, you win 50 games."
Rave extended his hitting streak to 17 games with a first-inning infield hit, took second on Owen Miller's single and scored on Derek Parola's two-out single to right field.
Dallas Baptist (19-10, 2-1) drew even in the second as Luke Bandy doubled, continued to third on a passed ball and came home courtesy of a Blayne Jones sacrifice fly.
ISU forged ahead with a sixth-inning tally. Noah Sadler reached on an infield hit, went to second on a throwing error, proceeded to third on a Parola sacrifice bunt and hustled home on a wild pitch.
Collin Braithwaite pulled a seventh-inning double into the left-field corner, advanced on a wild pitch and rode home on a Parola sacrifice fly.
"It was a very low-scoring game. I was proud of our guys how they fought back in the ninth there," Patriots coach Dan Heefner said. "We didn't execute in the top half of that (11th) inning and they did in the bottom."
Before Sunday, Dallas Baptist had won 15 of 16 previous games over ISU since joining the Valley.