The early outlook was bleak when Southern Illinois scored the game’s first four runs, but the complexion of the afternoon changed in a hurry with one swing of the bat from Ryan Maka (Oak Forest, Ill. / Oak Forest). A go-ahead grand slam in the bottom of the second gave the Valparaiso University baseball team a lead that it would not relinquish in an eventual 9-8 win over Southern Illinois on Friday at Emory G. Bauer Field. The Salukis scored twice in the ninth and stranded the potential tying run at third base.
How It Happened
- A two-run homer by Bennett Eltoft helped SIU to a three-run first inning. Kaeber Rog tacked on a solo shot in the second to make it an early 4-0 edge for the guests.
- The first Valpo run came in the second when Matt Olive (Minneapolis, Minn. / Blake School) dashed home on a wild pitch, then Kyle Schmack (Wanatah, Ind. / South Central) drew a bases-loaded walk to make it 4-2. That set the stage for Maka’s grand slam to dead center, transforming a two-run deficit into a two-run lead and capping a six-run second.
- Both starting pitchers recovered nicely from humble beginnings as neither team scored again until the seventh. Valpo’s Griffin McCluskey (Normal, Ill. / Normal Community) pitched shutout ball in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
- SIU’s Pier-Olivier Boucher hit a solo shot to left center to cut the lead in half in the seventh, making it a 6-5 game.
- Valpo got two in the seventh thanks to some help from shaky SIU defense as the Salukis committed a throwing error on one play and had a miscommunication on the left side of the infield on another as Jake Skrine (Longmont, Colo. / Mead [Indiana]) and Brady Nowicki (Big Bend, Wis. / Mukwonago [Indian Hills CC]) notched RBIs to build the edge to 8-5.
- Rog hit his second home run of the day in the top of the eighth, but Valpo got the run right back in the bottom of the inning as Olive drew a walk that forced home a run and made it 9-6.
- The top of the ninth started with two doubles sandwiched around a hit batsman, prompting head coach Brian Schmack to make a pitching change and summon Grant Jablonski (Mishawaka, Ind. / Mishawaka) with Valpo clinging to a 9-7 lead with runners at second and third and nobody out. A sac fly made it 9-8 and the potential tying run moved to third, but Jablonski got a big strikeout before inducing a fly ball to center that allowed the Valpo dugout and fan base to breathe a sigh of relief.
Inside the Game
- The win allowed Valpo to clinch its highest single-season overall win total since the 2018 campaign.
- Valpo played its ninth one-run game of the season and improved to 6-3 in games decided by the slimmest of margins.
- The Beacons prevailed in the column that counts despite being outhit 12-11, marking the team’s third win this season when being outhit.
- Valpo improved to 9-0 when scoring nine runs or more this season.
- Maka’s home run was his seventh of the season and the 12th of his collegiate career. This marked his second grand slam of 2023 with the first one coming on April 2 vs. Murray State.
- The team has three grand slams this year with Maka owning two of them. Prior to this season, the team’s last grand slam was 2019 (Sam Shaikin).
- There have been 11 Valpo grand slam since Brian Schmack took over as head coach in 2014 and Maka is the first player with two during the Schmack Era.
- Kyle Schmack and Nolan Tucker (Cedar Lake, Ind. / Hanover Central) joined Maka with multiple hits. Maka reached base four times as he also drew two walks.
- McCluskey (3-4) was the winning pitcher after allowing four runs on seven hits and two walks over six innings. This marked the fifth win of his collegiate career.
- Jablonski picked up his second career save, both this season.
- Valpo continued its tradition of success against the Salukis at Emory G. Bauer Field. The Beacons are 7-1 all-time when hosting SIU.
- The win came over a Southern Illinois team that was the preseason favorite to win the Missouri Valley Conference. SIU went 44-16 last season en route to the MVC regular-season crown.
- This marked Valpo’s first win over the MVC preseason favorite since 2018. The Beacons had dropped 13 straight against the team picked to win the league since beating 2018 preseason favorite DBU in both the regular season and MVC Tournament. One more win in this series would allow the Beacons to notch a series win over the team picked to win The Valley for the first time since joining the league.
Valpo (17-19, 8-11) and Southern Illinois will clash at 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon as the series continues at Emory G. Bauer Field. The game will air on ESPN3.