NORMAL — After disheartening losses to Missouri State the previous two days, Illinois State second baseman Kevin Tokarski knew something needed to change.
In his initial look at the Redbird lineup card, Tokarski thought that change was removing him from the batting order.
But switching to the No. 3 hole for the first time this season, Tokarski was part of ISU coach Mark Kingston’s lineup shuffle that produced the desired results in the Redbirds’ 8-3 victory over the Bears Sunday at Duffy Bass Field.
“My first glance at the lineup I thought I wasn’t even playing. Then I looked down and saw I was hitting three,” said Tokarski, who had hit leadoff in all 42 of ISU’s previous games. “He (Kingston) mixed some things up and it seemed to work.”
The Redbirds (28-15, 8-7) salvaged the final game of the Missouri Valley Conference series as Chad Hinshaw led off and Josh Colon batted second for the first time. Tyler McNeely hit fourth for just the second game and Ryan Court was fifth for the first time since March 12.
“I thought we could use a little spark. I thought that spark needed to be Hinshaw at the top, Tok in the middle of the lineup and move Mac up into the four hole,” Kingston said. “Sometimes just a different look gives you a different result.”
Hinshaw, Colon and Tokarski each scored twice, while Tokarski, McNeely and Court combined for eight hits and five RBIs.
Sophomore starter J.D. Learnard (6-2) picked up his third straight series-concluding victory. The right-hander allowed three earned runs and struck out two in 61/3 innings.
“Part of my problem at the beginning of the year was walks,” said Learnard. “If I let them put the ball in play and get ground balls, our defense keeps everything in the infield.”
Closer Kenny Long allowed one hit and fanned three over the final 22/3 innings.
“Once again a quality start for J.D. That’s what you need on Sundays,” Kingston said. “We’re still in the (MVC) race. I was really happy the way we responded in probably the biggest game of the year for us.”
Hinshaw was hit by a pitch in the first, stole second and motored around to score on two Missouri State errors. ISU converted four walks, an error and a passed ball into three third-inning tallies.
Luke Voit’s two-run double in the fourth and another run in the fifth brought the Bears (27-18, 8-6) within 4-3.
The Redbirds took two of those runs back in the bottom of the fifth on consecutive singles by Colon, Tokarski, McNeely and Court.
Tokarski, McNeely and Court singled in succession again in the sixth for a 7-3 lead, and Court’s eighth-inning triple drove in McNeely with the final ISU run.
Missouri State starter Grant Gordon (3-5) took the loss.
ILLINOIS STATE 8, MISSOURI STATE 3
Missouri State...000 210 000-3-9-4
Illinois State...103 021 01x-8-10-3
Gordon (L, 3-5), Powers (3), Murphy (6), Casey (8) and Voit. Learnard (W, 6-2), Long (7) and Mirabal.
ILLINOIS STATE - 3B - Court. RBI - Court 3, McNeely, Tokarski. Two or more hits - McNeely 3, Court 3, Tokarski 2. Pitching - Learnard (6.1 IP, 3 ER, 4 BB, 2 SO), Long (2.2 IP, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 SO).
Records - Missouri State 27-18, 8-6; Illinois State 28-15, 8-7.