NORMAL — The tying runs were in scoring position with no outs when Nick Brune jogged in from the Illinois Wesleyan bullpen in the eighth inning Wednesday at the Corn Crib.
“I wasn’t focusing on the runners,” Brune said. “I don’t have to worry about them running.”
While Brune meant those North Park runners would not be trying to steal, he also made sure they wouldn’t be running in to score.
Brune struck out Ranko Stevanovic and Justin Woolbright before right fielder Evan Ranneklev made a diving catch for the third out to extinguish the Vikings’ threat.
Brune then struck out two more in a perfect ninth as IWU hung on for an 8-7 College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin victory.
“I was just focusing on making the right pitches,” said Brune, who notched his second save. “I needed to strike some guys out if we wanted to keep that threat from scoring.
"Our outfield has been playing great all year. It was a great play by Ranneklev to come and get that one.”
IWU evened its record at 12-12 overall and 5-5 in the CCIW.
“We needed to make some way in the league,” Wesleyan coach Dennis Martel said. “We’ve been battling the injury bug all year. We’re going to be really good come conference tournament time. This is a big win to get us into that position to make the conference tournament.”
A senior right-hander, Brune lowered his ERA to 2.37 and has 47 strikeouts in 41⅔ innings.
“I go to my big horse,” Martel said. “He’s a senior pitching like a senior.”
IWU broke on top in the first when Nick Figus led off with a triple and scored on a Ranneklev ground out.
Junior first baseman Garrett Shea blasted a two-run home run in the third inning and a three-run shot in the fourth to boost the Titans’ advantage to 6-2. Both were opposite-field blasts as Shea capitalized on a strong wind blowing out to right field.
“They had been working me away the whole game. My first at-bat I hit a ground ball to shortstop,” said Shea, who has all six of his home runs in the last four games. “You tell yourself to stay back and go that way and good things happen. Get it out there and the wind will do the rest.”
North Park (12-10, 5-5) scored twice in the fifth and three times in the sixth to pull into a 7-7 tie. The Titans scored the deciding and final run in the bottom of the sixth when Figus walked and scored on a Ranneklev double.
Figus had three singles, a triple and a walk to hike his season batting average to a lofty .516 in 62 at-bats.
“His tools are off the charts,” Martel said. “He’s a very special player. I’m glad he’s on our side.”
Wesleyan starter Braden Miller gave up one hit and two unearned runs over the first four innings. Andy Robbins, the third of four Vikings’ pitchers, took the loss.