NORMAL — The way Brent Headrick has been pitching, the Illinois State bullpen could almost set up hammocks as their teammate mows down opposing hitters.
Yet when Headrick encountered both sudden and uncharacteristic difficulty in the sixth inning Thursday at Duffy Bass Field, Mitch Vogrin sprang into action and rode to the Redbirds’ rescue.
Vogrin preserved a two-run ISU lead and Redbird hitters exploded for six runs in the seventh to capture an 11-2 Missouri Valley Conference victory over Evansville.
“Every Friday night (normally the first game of a Valley series), we’re pretty relaxed. It’s good having Brent on the mound. He’s been on a tear all year,” said Vogrin, who inherited runners at first and second and no outs.
“It happens. You get late in a game, you run into some hits and a walk or two, and you’ve just go to pass it on to the next guy. I didn't throw many pitches in the bullpen, but I got my mind ready.”
At 31-21 overall, ISU stands alone atop the MVC at 13-6 with two regular season games to go.
“Every game there is always one crossroads for you,” Redbirds coach Steve Holm said. “Brent got a little squirrely on the mound and walked a couple guys. Vogrin came in and bailed out Brent. The guy (Headrick) just went a perfect 7-0 through our conference so we’ll give him a little break there.”
Headrick, who issued three of his season-high five walks and allowed a two-run single to Matthew Jones in the sixth before departing, is 8-3 on the season and has defeated every Valley opponent.
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Evansville starter Adam Lukas helped attract nearly 15 scouts with his mid to high 90 mph velocity. Redbird John Rave walloped a 2-2 third-inning fastball from Lukas into the trees in center field for his 11th homer of the season with Nick Zouras and Aidan Huggins aboard.
“He’s a really good arm. I was sitting fastball. That’s his bread and butter,” said Rave. “I knew he kind of wanted to punch me out with that and shove it down my throat. It was a little elevated. It felt good off the bat. I kind of knew that was going to get out.”
Joe Aeilts’ three-run double and a two-run Zouras single highlighted a seventh inning that put Evansville (23-26, 10-9) away.
“Their two big hitters (Rave and Aeilts) delivered two barrels for six runs,” Purple Aces coach Wes Carroll said. “What they got in the seventh, we needed in our two-run inning. A lot of credit to their offense. They were pretty special today.”
Zouras had four hits and Joe Butler three as ISU outhit Evansville, 14-5.
“We all know what’s on the line with these next couple games,” said Zouras of Friday’s 5 p.m. contest and Saturday’s 1 p.m. finale. “Coach Holm told us to not get too far ahead of ourselves. We’re swinging the bats really well, and Brent gave us a really good chance.”
Vogrin and Jeff Lindgren each delivered two scoreless innings of relief. Lukas (5-5) took the loss.