NORMAL, Ill. — Book Wichita State opposite Southern Illinois pitcher Cody Forsythe and reserve a spot in the losers bracket for the Shockers.
Forsythe beat WSU for a second straight year in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and the fourth time in his career on Tuesday’s opening day. The Salukis won 5-1 at Bass Field with Forsythe holding the Shockers to seven hits in his first complete game of the season.
"We were only two runs down all the way through," WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. "But we acted like it was insurmountable."
Facing Forsythe made it seem that way. The second-seeded Shockers (34-26) were fortunate to take a 1-0 lead in the second inning when SIU left fielder Wes Neece misplayed a fly ball into an RBI double. WSU got six runners on the rest of the game and none made it to third base.
WSU plays third-seeded Creighton in Wednesday’s 9 a.m. elimination game. Seventh-seeded SIU (25-31) plays sixth-seeded Indiana State at 4 p.m.
This should feel familiar to the Shockers, who lost to Forsythe and SIU 6-3 a year ago in the tournament. In five career starts, the senior lefty is 4-0 with a 1.38 ERA against WSU. On Tuesday, he struck out seven, walked two and shackled the Shockers from the third inning until the final out.
"He comes right at guys," WSU right fielder Garrett Bayliff said. "He was working both sides of the plate. His fastball, he’s not overpowering, but he hides it well and it gets on you in a hurry."
Forsythe gave WSU an opening in the first inning when Tanner Dearman led off with a double. He moved to third without one out, but Casey Gillaspie struck out on a high fastball and Johnny Coy smacked a line drive to center. After Mikel Mucha’s double scored Erik Harbutz in the second, Forsythe gave up little else. He faced one more than the minimum over the next three innings and a double play erased the only runner in the sixth. In the seventh, he stranded Tyler Baker at first with a strikeout and a fly ball.
He relied on fastballs and changeups, moving them around and changing speeds so the Shockers rarely hit balls hard. Coy lined out twice and went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. Gillaspie went 0 for 3 with a walk. Bayliff, WSU’s leading hitter, went 1 for 4.
“The changeup was definitely a big pitch for me today, it was just enough to keep them off the outside fastballs,” Forsythe said. “It all worked out real well.”
The Shockers needed starter Cale Elam to match Forsythe, for the psychological boost as much as anything. He fought his control early, walking two batters in the first two innings and taking two others to three-ball counts. When SIU took a 3-1 lead in the fourth, the mental edge went to SIU with Forsythe in control.
“We obviously didn’t handle it very well,” Bayliff said. “With the history he’s had against us, it makes it a little tougher. We have to be tougher than that.”
Stephenson didn’t like the way the Shockers played down two runs. SIU tied it 1-all when Brock Harding singled to left and Austin Montgomery scored from second. Mucha made a strong throw to the plate and it bounced once before reaching catcher Parker Zimmerman. But he dropped the ball and Montgomery slid in safely.
“You’ve got to make plays,” Stephenson said. “"You drop the ball at the plate, and the whole game turns right there. Why? I don’ t know. It seems like we make one mistake and it just blows up on you."
SIU added two more singles in the fourth, with No. 9 hitter Rennie Troggio driving in two runs with a bouncer past third. Elam ended the inning with a strikeout and a groundball. While the Salukis didn’t smash the ball, Elam left a few pitches up in the zone and paid for it. Stephenson took him out in the fifth. Reliever Albert Minnis held SIU scoreless until the ninth.
“I made some good pitches and they found holes,” Elam said. “At the same time, you’ve got to find a way to get somebody out. Giving up the three, I thought I could hold them right there and it would be all right. But, it never should have been to three.”
SIU scored two runs in the ninth with Ryan Casillas’ RBI double off Foster Vielock the big blow. Cody Daily followed with an RBI single and Forsythe enjoyed plenty of cushion.
DP — SIU 2, WSU 3. LOB — SIU 12, WSU 6. 2B — Casillas (8), Harding (6), Dearman (3), Mucha (8). S — Jones, Rosthenhausler, Baker.
Umpires — Jason Stidham, home; Bret Bruington, first; Wayne Harris, second; Tim Catton, third. T — 2:29. A — 524.