NORMAL — The reaction was admittedly a bit delayed. Yet Matt Mirabal’s opening-game home run did more than just avert a shutout Friday at Duffy Bass Field.
“I thought that set the tone for the second game. We showed we’re going to play every out,” Illinois State coach Mark Kingston said. “I thought there was some carryover effect.”
After the Redbirds dropped the first game of a nonconference doubleheader to Central Michigan, 2-1, Mirabal had three hits and scored three runs in the nightcap as the Redbirds claimed a 6-2 victory.
“The first game we got pitched to a little bit,” said Mirabal, who caught both games. “Once we found our approach, we started hitting pretty well the next game.”
ISU (7-9) trailed 2-1 through 5½ innings of the second game before Kevin Tokarski blasted a no-doubt home run to left field. Two batters later, Anthony Ruffolo gave the Redbirds the lead with a solo shot to right.
In the seventh, Ryan Court’s run-scoring single knocked in Mirabal, who singled home Ruffolo in the eighth. Mirabal then scored on a Jake Thornton double.
The outburst made a winner out of ISU left-hander Ryan Copeland, who struck out three and walked none over seven innings.
“I certainly haven’t been off to the start I was looking for,” said Copeland, who entered the game with an 8.18 ERA. “I got out of a few jams and from there the confidence goes nowhere but up. My changeup was outstanding. That was definitely big for me. When I don’t have that, I become a two-pitch pitcher.”
Freshman J.D. Learnard followed Copeland with two perfect innings for his first save.
Central Michigan’s Jess Hernandez blanked ISU on two hits over the first six frames of the seven-inning opener.
Mirabal lined his first career home run over the left-field wall with one out in the seventh. The Redbirds then loaded the bases on singles by Evan Kohli and Tokarski and a walk from reliever Bryce Morrow.
The Chippewas (7-7) called on Mike Nixon, who ran the court full on Ruffolo before recording the game-ending fly out to left.
Corey Maines took the loss for ISU.
“I thought all four starters on both sides threw very well,” said Kingston.
The series resumes with a 1 p.m. single game today.