NORMAL — From McGraw Park in Bloomington to Duffy Bass Field, the venue has gotten bigger but the partnership has remained.
After thriving at Central Catholic High School, John Rave and Jacob Gilmore teamed up again Wednesday to spark Illinois State to a 2-1 victory over Sacramento State.
“It’s not anything new. We’ve been there before,” Rave said. “It’s always good to see former Saints closing out a game like that. We trust him with the ball in his hands. He’s the guy we go to at the end of games.”
Rave blasted a two-run home run and Gilmore secured the final four outs as the Redbirds hiked their record to 22-15 while matching last season’s win total with 18 regular-season games remaining.
The contest was especially significant for ISU coach Steve Holm, who was an assistant at Sacramento State under Hornets head coach Reggie Christiansen from 2013-16.
“I told our guys it was definitely a must win for us. No doubt,” Holm said with a smile. “It’s 100 percent friendly, but for about 2½ hours not so friendly. I know he wanted to win, and I wanted to win that game a lot.”
Sacramento State (23-13) opens a Western Athletic Conference series at Chicago State on Thursday and had room for another game.
“We were short a game. I’m glad it was able to work out,” said Christiansen. “It was good to see him and his family. It was great to see him as a head coach. He’s doing a great job.”
With ISU also facing a conference series over the weekend, both coaches opted for a bullpen day and neither was disappointed.
Reigning Missouri Valley Pitcher of the Week Colton Johnson got the Redbirds started with three scoreless, one-hit innings. Johnson has authored 14⅓ scoreless frames over his last four appearances.
The Hornets reached ISU reliever Mitch Vogrin for a Dylan McPhillips home run that caromed off the top of the left-field wall and over in the fifth.
The Redbirds also picked the fifth for their scoring. Jack Butler reached base on a check swing infield single and was sacrificed to second by Aidan Huggins before Rave unloaded on a 2-1 offering from Travis Martizia for an opposite-field homer to left.
While the wind was blowing out to left, Rave’s blast required no assistance.
“When I played and the wind was blowing out, I hit ground balls. I must have taught them how to do that,” joked Holm. “He (Rave) really got to it. It got in that jet stream, but he hit it pretty hard.”
The homer was Rave’s sixth of the season.
“I was just trying to stay on a ball, get in good hitter’s counts and see the ball deep (in his stance) as much as possible,” Rave said. “It was a crazy wind. I got a good pitch to hit and let it fly.”
Gilmore took the hill to retire the final batter of the eighth. The sophomore left-hander allowed an infield single and a walk in the ninth before striking out pinch-hitter Dylan Ohlsen to end the game for his seventh save.
“Beginning of the year, no, I didn’t really see myself being a closer. It just worked out that way,” said Gilmore. “It’s Coach Holm telling me mentally you have to believe you’re the best and have amazing confidence you’re going to get the job done.
"He believes in me so I ultimately have to believe in myself to get it done.”
Vogrin (2-0) was the winning pitcher. Derek Parola stroked doubles for two of ISU’s five hits.