Panthers get 1st conference series win

Adam Tumino, Editor-in-Chief

After a 3-2 loss to Southeast Missouri Friday, the Eastern baseball team needed to sweep a Saturday doubleheader if they wanted to win their first conference series win of the season.

The Panthers did just that, beating the Redhawks 9-2 and 8-4 Saturday to take the series and improve to 4-5 in conference play this season.

Eastern head coach Jason Anderson said that it was important for the team to not lose its third-straight series to begin conference play, and he was happy with the way the team played Saturday.

“After losing (Friday’s) game the way we did, our backs were really against the wall,” Anderson said. “So I thought today we came out and played our best two games of baseball that we’ve probably played all year.”

Eastern’s pitching staff, which had knocked around a bit in the first two conference series against Murray State and Tennessee Tech, was more effective against the Redhawks.

In the first game Saturday, redshirt-sophomore pitcher Cameron Doherty pitched a season-high 7 innings, allowing just 2 runs on 9 hits while recording 9 strikeouts. He improved to 3-0 on the season and lowered his team-leading ERA to 2.87.

Junior Kyle Lang pitched the final 2 innings, allowing just 2 hits and no runs. 

Second baseman Lucas DiLuca got the Eastern offense rolling with a leadoff double in the bottom of the first. He later scored on a 2-run single from catcher Ryan Knernschield, who himself would score on a groundout from third baseman Dalton Doyle.

Eastern would score a run in both the third and fourth innings before scoring three times in the sixth, with two of the runs coming on DiLuca’s second double of the game.

Shortstop Trey Sweeney drove in DiLuca two batter later. Doyle would score the Panthers’ ninth and final run on a wild pitch in the seventh.

Eastern would have to come from behind to win game two after the Redhawks jumped ahead with a pair of unearned runs in the first inning off Eastern redshirt-junior Trevor Nicholson.

A two-out error by Sweeney on a grounder hit by catcher Andrew Keck allowed the first run to score. The next batter, first baseman Austin Blazevic, drove in Keck. 

The Redhawks scored twice more in the second. Three of the first four hitters would single off Nicholson, with the third single driving in a run.

Redshirt-senior Alex Stevenson came into the game for Nicholson, and the Redhawks would get one more run on a passed ball.

Stevenson got the next two hitters out to end the inning, then pitched three more shutout innings, allowing just 2 hits and striking out three batters.

Doyle scored for the Panthers in the bottom of the second as Eastern started chipping away at the Redhawks’ lead. Rightfielder Dane Toppel drove in a run on a single in the third and then scored on a Knernschield groundout to bring the Panthers within one run.

Eastern would grab the lead in the fourth when Toppel came up with the bases loaded and then promptly cleared them with a double to put the Panthers ahead 6-4.

Sweeney was up next, and he hit a home run over the center field fence to give Eastern an 8-4 lead and end the day’s scoring. It was Sweeney’s seventh home run this season, which ranks second in the OVC.

Redshirt-senior Foster Anshutz pitched the final four innings for Eastern to pick up his second save of the season.

Anderson said that the pitchers were able to remain confident despite allowing 9.7 runs per game in the first two conference series, allowing just 9 runs total in three games against Southeast Missouri.

“We were going through a tough stretch of schedule where the hitting has been really good, and so it’s hard to keep confidence up,” he said. “This was the big test for that this weekend, and they came through with flying colors.”

Going forward, the Panthers will host Illinois State for a single game Tuesday before continuing conference play on the road against Belmont with a game April 2 and doubleheader April 3.

Adam Tumino can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]