NORMAL — The past couple years, John Rave knows Illinois State's baseball team might have been content to get a split and head inside as soon as possible to thaw out after playing a doubleheader in 40-degree weather.
Yet falling behind 4-1 after two innings against Central Michigan at Duffy Bass Field didn't detour the Redbirds in their home opener Saturday.
"This team is really resilient from the pitching staff to the players," said Rave, the Redbirds' standout junior centerfielder. "We're never out of a game. With our staff and bats now, whatever the score is we're going to play until the last out."
Derek Parola legged out an infield single on a deep grounder to third with two outs in the seventh, allowing pinch-runner Jeremy Gaines to score the go-ahead run. Jacob Gilmore recorded a six-out save as ISU rallied for a 5-4 victory to sweep the Chippewas in Steve Holm's home debut as Redbird head coach.
Jordan Libman had four hits and three RBIs in the first game as ISU scored five runs in the eighth to take a 7-2 victory.
Holm said the second-game comeback was "very encouraging" as ISU stretched its winning streak to five while improving to 12-5.
"The easiest thing to do is roll over and say they already got a win. They didn't do that," he said. "They chipped away and chipped away."
ISU scored 41 runs in its previous three games, including an upset of No. 1-ranked Vanderbilt. The Redbirds had 22 hits in Saturday's games, but relied on a strong effort by their bullpen to earn their first doubleheader sweep this season.
The Redbirds received 6⅓ scoreless innings from four relievers, capped by Gilmore picking up his fifth save.
"The bullpen slammed the door. All day the bullpen was lights out," said Holm. "That's the sign of a good staff."
Starter Brent Headrick went six innings for the Redbirds in the opener. The junior left-hander gave up five hits and two runs, both earned, while walking two and striking out four.
Colton Johnson (3-0) went the final two innings to pick up the win. He gave up four hits and struck out three.
ISU scored five runs in the eighth. Lead-off hitter Joe Butler reached on a bunt before Tyson Hays followed with a double. Freshman Gunner Peterson drilled a 1-2 pitch into the right-center gap to score Butler and Hays, giving the Redbirds a 4-2 lead.
Jack Butler reached on another bunt before Aidan Huggins' double scored Peterson. With two outs, the Chippewas pitched to Libman with first base open, and he made them pay with a two-run double.
"It's all approach right now. The coaching staff has embedded a really good opposite field, up-the-middle approach kind of going back to the old-school way of hitting instead of all the launch angle stuff," said Libman, who raised his average over .400 in the first game before going 0-for-3 in game two.
"When you stay through the middle and stay opposite field, you see the ball better. I really think it's helped everyone, not just me."
ISU had four bunt hits in the opener. Holm was asked if that's going to be part of the Redbirds' game plan this season.
"When the third baseman plays in left field, it will be," he said. "Later in the game they came in and we got a chopper through that hole. We want to take what the game gives you and the other team gives you."
Central Michigan (12-6) struck for three runs, all unearned, in the first inning of the second game. Third baseman Aeilts' two-out error allowed one run before Jacob Crum's two-run triple off Jeff Lindgren.
Libman's ground out scored Rave in the bottom of the first. Central Michigan tacked on a run in the second before Peterson's two-run homer down the right field line, his fourth in the last five games, cut the gap to 4-3 in the fourth.
Rave started the fifth with a triple over the centerfielder's head and scored on Parola's ground out.
Cameron Brown, a Pontiac High School graduate, started the second game for the Chippewas. The sophomore went 5⅓ innings, giving up six hits and four earned runs while walking three and striking out three.
After ISU took its first lead in the seventh, Gilmore didn't give Central Michigan much of a chance. He allowed only one baserunner, a two-out single in the eighth, and struck out two batters looking.
ISU and Central Michigan conclude the series at 1 p.m. Sunday.