NORMAL — A slump, a swoon, a slide, a funk.
Pick your poison, but the Illinois State baseball team has fallen into it.
A late-arriving offense, faulty relief pitching and a costly throwing error added up to a 6-3 nonconference loss to Milwaukee on Tuesday at Duffy Bass Field.
The Redbirds (13-10) have scored three runs or less each game while dropping four straight.
“We’re fighting through it,” ISU coach Steve Holm said. “When your offense isn’t going well — and I think that’s fair — you’re not able offensively to come back from crooked numbers.
"We’re giving them crooked numbers on the defensive side. That is going to lead to a lot of losses.”
That crooked number was the five Milwaukee (13-8) posted in the seventh inning.
Redbird starter Brett Wicklund (2-1) departed after a one-out walk to Oakland Scanlan and a Nate DeYoung double.
Jack Anderson took over on the mound. The sophomore walked a pair and gave up an infield hit before Colton Johnson relieved.
Johnson got Trevor Schwecke to bounce into a bases-loaded force at second base. But the throw from Redbird shortstop Aidan Huggins for the potential double play sailed over the head of first baseman Jack Butler. That allowed the Panthers to continue with what would end in a five-run outburst.
ISU was held scoreless over the first seven innings despite two Nick Zouras doubles and another from Joe Aeilts. Milwaukee starter Alex McIntosh (3-0) struck out three and walked one over five innings.
“We’re still the team that won some big games. We know that. We just have to iron some things out, and we’ll get back on track,” said Aeilts. “Baseball’s a tough game. When you don’t play clean, it will punish you a little bit. That’s what we’ve got going on right now.”
“What you like is everyone is trying. Unfortunately, they are trying too hard,” Holm said. “That’s all it is at the plate.”
ISU capitalized on an error by Panthers first baseman Scanlan in the eighth. After Derek Parola reached on the miscue, Jordan Libman and Aeilts singled to load the bases.
Joe Butler singled to drive in Parola and Libman came home on Jack Butler’s fielder’s choice before Jake Sommers became Milwaukee’s fifth pitcher and struck out Zouras on a 2-2 breaking ball.
“We just got an unbelievably good start from McIntosh,” Panthers coach Scott Doffek said. “There was one focus play at first base where we dropped a routine throw. Before you know it, you’re fighting for your life there at the end.”
The victory made Doffek the winningest coach in Milwaukee history. The 13th-year skipper has a career record of 348-340.