McNeely's Blast Lifts Redbirds in Walk-Off Fashion Again
April 17, 2010
Illinois State entered the ninth inning trailing 3-2, but a pair of one-out base hits by Brett Kay and Kevin Tokarski, and a misplayed ball in right field tied the contest. After Jake Thornton was intentionally walked, McNeely ended the game by hitting the ball over the centerfield wall, and lifted Illinois State (17-15, 7-1 MVC) to its fifth straight Missouri Valley Conference win. The win, coupled with Friday night's 6-5 walk-off win, clinches Illinois State's third Valley series win to start conference play and keeps the Redbirds in first place.
Both teams received strong outings from their starting pitchers. For Southern Illinois (16-19, 5-6 MVC), Nathan Forer struck out five and limited Illinois State to two runs despite allowing seven hits in 6.1 innings pitched. Illinois State's Brad Sorkin pitched a career-best 7.1 innings while holding the Salukis to three runs on three hits. The freshman from Buffalo Grove, Ill., walked four batters in the game.
Southern scored first, plating a single run in the second inning after leadoff hitter Nick Johnson was hit by a pitch and moved from first to third on a single by Michael Stalter. Brock Harding grounded into a fielder's choice, but was able to push Johnson across.
Illinois State's Anthony Ruffolo, who was 3-for-3 in the game with a walk, evened the score with a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth inning. It was Ruffolo's sixth home run of the season, and second of the series. After Southern moved ahead again with a single run in the top of the sixth, the Redbirds rallied again, this time on a single through the left side by Tokarski to score Kay in the bottom of the seventh.
Sorkin walked Chris Murphy with one out in the top of the eighth and was lifted after the Saluki centerfield stole second base. Kenny Long entered the game for the Redbirds and induced a weak ground ball past the pitcher's mound but the only play for Tokarski, Illinois State's second baseman, was to throw to first and allow the go-ahead run to score. Long struck out Chris Serritella to end the eighth, one of three strikeouts for Long in 1.2 innings pitched.
Saluki reliever Lee Weld worked around a leadoff single by Ruffolo in the eighth inning to post a scoreless frame and struck out Ryan Court to lead off the bottom of the ninth before running into trouble. Kay drove a ball back up the middle for his third hit of the contest and scored from first after a single by Tokarski was bobbled by Johnson in left field. Illinois State catcher Matt Mirabal flied out to left for the second out of the ninth and Thornton was walked to get to McNeely, who had entered the game as a pinch runner for Ruffolo in the eighth. Weld's first pitch to McNeely was a strike and the second was sent out of the park.
Ruffolo (3), Kay (3) and Tokarski (2) all had multiple hits for the Redbirds, who out-hit the Salukis 11-3. Murphy scored twice for Southern Illinois and was 1-for-2 in the game with two walks. ISU's Long (3-2) earned the win in relief for the second-consecutive game.
The series concludes Sunday at 1 p.m. with Illinois State's Ryan Camp (4-3, 8.67 ERA) expected to start against Southern Illinois' Randy Hoelscher (2-2, 9.76 ERA). Sunday is a Reggie's Kids Club Day at the park, with kid's club members receiving free admission to the game. Members of Illinois State's men's and women's basketball teams, which both advanced to postseason play during the 2009-10 seasons, will be on hand to sign autographs and meet the kids.
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