TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - The first games at Bob Warn Field at Sycamore Stadium began under sunny skies and finished under the lights with the Indiana State University baseball team splitting a doubleheader with the University of Tennessee at Martin in front of 494 fans. The Sycamores fell in game one by a score of 4-3, but took the second game, 5-4, thanks to a walk-off single with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 13th inning from senior Tyler Graham.
'It was exciting, it was fun," said head coach Rick Heller when asked about playing for the first time at Bob Warn Field. "It was surreal. It seemed as if everyone was out of sorts in the first game this season. The surface played great, the dugouts are awesome. I couldn't be happier with how the field played.
In game one, the Sycamores and Skyhawks both saw exceptional pitching performances from their respective starting pitchers. ISU's Jacob Petricka (1-2) struck out a career-high 12 batters without issuing a walk over seven innings on the mound. UTM's Coty Green (2-1) got the better of the two starters, however, tossing eight innings in the center of the diamond with six strikeouts and no walks.
Freshman Robby Ort knocked in Indiana State's first two runs of game one, with RBI singles in both the fourth and sixth innings.
ISU entered the bottom of the ninth inning down by a score of 4-2 and saw a late-inning rally fall short. Senior Ryan Strausborger hit an RBI single with two outs to plate freshman Steve Ball to cut the deficit to 4-3 and would advance to second when the next batter, sophomore Kyle Burnam, was hit by a pitch. But the late rally would fall short when senior Luke Fieser struck out to end game one.
"It was disappointing to lose, but you have to tip your hat to Coty Green," said head coach Heller. "On the positive side, Jake [Petricka] stepped up and had his best game of the year."
In game two, the Sycamores were determined to leave with the win, coming back from an early 2-0 UTM lead. Indiana State took advantage of a pair of defensive miscues by the Skyhawks to tie the game after three innings, with senior Ben Caple scoring on a throwing error in the second inning and Burnam scoring on a fielding error in the third.
Down 4-2 in the sixth inning, the Sycamores got an RBI single from Caple to plate Graham which cut the lead to a single run. ISU would tie the score the following inning, thanks to a two-out RBI triple off the bat of Burnam.
While the score did not move out of a 4-4 tie until the 13th inning, both teams had several opportunities to win the game in extra innings.
In the bottom of the 10th inning, ISU loaded the bases with no outs. The Sycamores could not get a run home, as freshman Jordan Pearson struck out and a line drive off the bat of senior Ryan Strausborger was snagged by UTM's second baseman who doubled-off freshman Jeremy Lucas at second base to end the inning.
Freshman Tyler Browning got out of a jam in the top of the 11th, as the Skyhawks got runners on first and third with one down. Browning struck out the next batter and forced a groundout to Pearson to end the inning.
The top of the 12th inning was just as entertaining, if not more, for the Sycamores. Junior Brett Merkley entered the game with Skyhawk runners on first and second with no outs. Before throwing a pitch to the plate, Merkley picked off the Skyhawk runner on second base to record the first out of the inning, then tallied two outs when he did come to the plate, by inducing an inning-ending double play to keep the Sycamores and Skyhawks tied at 4-4.
The Sycamores capped the night off right in the bottom of the 13th inning. Pearson reached first on a fielding error and stole second. Strausborger came to the plate next and hit a high flyball to center field. Pearson held on second base in case the ball was caught, but the hit snuck just over the centerfielder's head to only allow Pearson to reach third. After an intentional walk to Burnam and a strikeout of Fieser, Graham rocketed a ball to the center field wall to plate Pearson from third to give the Sycamores a dramatic 5-4 win.
Senior Joe Rodriguez started game two for the Sycamores, tossing 7.2 innings on the mound while striking out eight batters without surrendering a walk. Merkley (1-1) picked up the victory for ISU, tossing two perfect innings in relief.
"Our pitching was very positive in game two," said head coach Heller. "Joe [Rodriguez] took us deep into the game and we had great pitching out of the bullpen from [Scott] Harlan, [Tyler] Browning and [Brett] Merkley.
"If we pitch like we did in both games today, it will bode well for our team for the rest of the season."
Strausborger led the Sycamores at the plate over the pair of games, going 5-11 with a pair of doubles. Burnam and Graham each tallied three hits and an RBI, with Burnam falling a home run short of the cycle in game two. The Sycamores totaled 25 strikeouts as a pitching staff over 22 innings on the mound on Saturday.
Indiana State (5-4) and Tennessee-Martin (7-3) will battle for the series win on Sunday, with first pitch set for 1:00 p.m. at Bob Warn Field. The Sycamores will start junior righty Jason Van Skike (1-0, 3.48 ERA), while the Skyhawks will counter with senior right-handed pitcher Drew Flaniken (0-0, 3.48 ERA).