NORMAL — In a weekend-long tussle for first place in the Missouri Valley Conference baseball standings, Indiana State's Tyler Whitbread had the last word Sunday at Duffy Bass Field.
And Illinois State failed to muster any sort of argument.
Whitbread held the Redbirds to one hit over the first six innings, and Indiana State seized sole possession of first place in the MVC with a 6-1 victory.
“The last two days, they threw out two great (pitching) performances, and we didn’t respond very well offensively,” ISU coach Steve Holm said. “Young guys know there is a lot on the line, and they start pressing a little bit. College baseball is about momentum, and we didn’t get any momentum.”
ISU slipped to 28-20 overall and 10-5 in the Valley, while Indiana State hiked its record to 34-11 and 11-4, respectively.
“Whitbread was really good. That was what we saw early in the season,” said Indiana State coach Mitch Hannahs. “The last couple outings he wasn’t as good since he got hit at Michigan State (April 7) by a line drive. Today he relaxed and just pitched instead of trying to throw it by (bat) barrels all day.”
Redbird starter Matt Walker (3-7) encountered sudden difficulty after retiring the first two Sycamores in the third.
Walks to Jake Means and Jarrod Watkins set the table for a CJ Huntley run-scoring single. After Roby Enriquez was hit by a pitch, Dane Tofteland singled home Watkins and Huntley for a 3-0 Sycamores' edge.
A Walker walk to Means also led to trouble in the fifth. Watkins followed with a bloop single, and Walker gave way to reliever Colton Johnson. Enriquez brought a run home with a fielder's choice grounder and another crossed the plate on a passed ball.
Whitbread (6-1) did not allow a hit until the sixth. Aidan Huggins walked with one out, took second on a ground out and came home as Derek Parola scooted an RBI single through the right side of the Indiana State infield.
“Their pitchers did a really good job. They kept us off balance all weekend,” Parola said. “They did a great job locating their off-speed stuff, and we went away from our approach a little bit.
"A lot of guys felt they needed to tie the game with one swing. Against a staff like that, you have to string some good at-bats together.”
Tofteland's solo homer off Johnson in the eighth accounted for the Sycamores' sixth run. That was the only run surrendered by Johnson in five innings of mound duty.
"Every time we had a little bit of momentum on the pitching side, we come back in and it was 1-2-3 (retired)," said Holm.
Reliever Tyler Ward handled the final three innings for Indiana State to earn his fifth save. Ward struck out four and allowed just one hit, a Joe Aeilts single in the ninth.