Illinois State hasn't been to the championship game since 1994, also the last time the Redbirds won the tournament.
That lack of history didn't keep them from setting Saturday as one of their season goals. The second-seeded Redbirds aren't surprised to be here.
"We've been preparing for this all year," designated hitter Evan Kohli said. "We've got one thing in mind, and that's to win the championship game now."
Illinois State (30-22) defeated third-seeded Indiana State 9-4 on Thursday to win Bracket A. They earned today off and will prepare for the winner of Evansville-Wichita State. Saturday's winner earns the MVC's automatic bid to an NCAA regional. The Redbirds won with their typical well-balanced game. Kohli drove in four runs, three with a home run in the fourth inning. Four pitchers scattered 11 hits and held the Sycamores to one run from three bases-loaded threats. At a time when most teams are hurting in the bullpen, relievers Jim Sajewich, Kenny Long and Ryan Copeland held the Sycamores to one run over the final 4 1/3 innings.
"That's the old cliche _ survive and advance," Redbirds coach Mark Kingston said. "We only had six hits in that game, but we made them count."
Two moments energized the Redbirds.
Starter Brad Sorkin took a line drive off his ankle in the second inning. He got right back on the mound and struck out the next batter to strand three runners.
"To see somebody get hit and then he bounces right back," second baseman Kevin Tokarski said. "We fed off that."
Kohli's home run, his fourth of the season, highlighted a six-run fourth inning and gave the Redbirds a 7-3 lead. Every good tournament run needs an unexpected hero. Kohli, hitting .203 entering the game, was that player on Thursday.
"Kohli's given us a lift ever since the Missouri State series," Kingston said. "He's been in the lineup ever since. He gives us another left-handed bat, with a chance to do what he did tonight."
Plenty of arms — Pitching shouldn't be an issue for Illinois State on Saturday, especially after a day off.
Kingston said Tuesday starter Corey Maines would be available. So will almost everybody else other than Sorkin, who took another line drive off his forearm on Thursday, and Wednesday starter J.D. Learnard.
Long and Copeland, the All-MVC relievers, will be fresh.
"I'm used to pitching all three games on the weekend," Copeland said. "Any time you can get a day off, it's huge. Pitching every other day, that should be your goal as a reliever. It's not really very hard to do."
See how it works — Plans to integrate Dallas Baptist into MVC schedules won't move as quickly as originally hoped.
Conference officials wanted to get Dallas Baptist on all schedules in 2011 as a trial run for a baseball-only membership. Instead, it will likely be 2012 before all eight schools add the Patriots.
"Almost all the schools have their 2011 schedules filled, and it's going to be very difficult to get more than three, possibly four," MVC associate commissioner Joe Mitch said.
Should the plan proceed, Dallas Baptist will play four home and four road non-conference series against MVC teams in 2012. If both parties like the arrangement, Dallas Baptist will be considered for affiliate membership for the 2013 season.
Mitch was one of the Valley representatives who visited the school this spring. The group, which included commissioner Doug Elgin, went to a game and talked with the school president and athletic director.
"Very impressive campus and people," Mitch said. "Right now, the majority of the (MVC) coaches are in favor. We have a couple coaches who have some reservations. They see the value in it, but are also concerned about travel costs. That's the biggest hang-up most of the schools have."
The Valley will use 2012's experiment to see how Dallas Baptist, now an independent, helps RPI and scheduling. Mitch said its RPI over the past six seasons averaged out in the 60s, second behind Wichita State among Valley schools.
"They're an impressive program," he said. "There's no assurance that the conference will admit them after the 2012 season, but we're going to take a really hard look. We think the positives will outweigh the negatives."
Take what you get — Teams fighting out of the losers bracket can't be picky about pitching. They need somebody unexpected to come through.
Or things can go bad in a flash.
Indiana State junior Blake Drake lasted three batters against Illinois State.
He hit Kevin Tokarski with his first pitch. He walked Ty Wiesemeyer on four pitches. He threw his next pitch behind Matt Mirabal, prompting a visit to the mound from his coach. Propped up, he hit Mirabal in the back.
That was it for Drake, who had started five games for Indiana State. Fortunately for him, Brett Merkley allowed just one run after inheriting a bases-loaded, no-outs situation.
Indiana State 9, Creighton 7 — The third-seeded Sycamores eliminated the Bluejays by scoring six runs in the final three innings.
Kyle Burnam went 3 for 5 and drove in two runs. He robbed Creighton's Alex Staehely of a home run in left field.
Trever Adams, from Hutchinson Community College, homered twice for sixth-seeded Creighton (27-25).
Indiana State003 000 231 — 9 14 1 Creighton003 010 003 — 7 8 2
Van Skike, Mann (6), Browning (9), Flora (9), Harlan (9) and Lucas; Hellhake, Spomer (3), Lackovic (7), VanLeur (7), Winkelman (8), Patterson (9) and Vitale. W — Mann (5-1). L — Spomer (0-2). Save — Harlan (2). HR — Creighton: Adams 2 (12).
Illinois State 9, Indiana State 4 — Evan Kohli's three-run homer gave the top-seeded Redbirds (30-22) a 7-3 lead. Matt Mirabal drove in two runs with a double in Illinois State's six-run fourth inning.
Indiana State (35-19) went up 3-1 in the top of the fourth, helped by a three-base throwing error on pitcher Brad Sorkin that allowed Robby Ort to score from first base and put Jeremy Lucas on third. The Sycamores finished with their most wins since the 2003 team won 36.
Indiana State000 300 001 — 4 12 2 Illinois State100 600 02x — 9 6 1
Drake, Flora (1), Dorsett (5), Harlan (7), Browning (8) and Lucas; Sorkin, Sajewich (5), Long (7), Copeland (8) and Mirabal. W — Sajewich (3-1). L — Flora (0-1). Save — Copeland (4). HR — Illinois St.: Kohli (4).
Evansville 7, Missouri State 2 — Corey Davisson held MSU to three hits over seven innings to keep Evansville (32-26) alive.
Cody Fick and Nate Smith drove in two runs apiece for the fifth-seeded Aces.
Luke Voit hit a two-run homer for eighth-seeded Missouri State (21-34). The Bears tied their season mark for most losses, first set in 2007.
Missouri State200 000 000 — 2 3 0 Evansville001 011 40x — 7 10 0
Doyle, Johnson (7) and Marshall; Davisson, Naumann (8) and Day. W — Davisson (9-1). L — Doyle (5-9). HR — Missouri St.: Voit.