A week ago sophomore Brown had gone four scoreless frames in a victory over South Alabama, though his sting wasn't long enough to count towards a decision. But with the staff a bit stretched after their four-game weekend in Arizona, and SEC season looming, a really strong start was needed. Brown (1-0) delivered with a complete 8.0 turns…a career-long outing needless to say.
"I might feel it in the morning," he said. "But I feel like I could run a marathon right now!"
Southern Illinois likely felt they were getting run-over by the righthander's stuff. Brown was touched for just four Saluki hits out of the 29 batters faced, walked only one and hit another, while striking out six. It wasn't the fannings which stood out either; Brown was a ground-ball machine, retiring 18 Salukis on bouncers to infielders…including himself.
"I was attacking them with my fastball, I'm a ground ball pitcher and sometimes they find holes. They didn't tonight, the defense just played really well." Errorless-ly to be exact, as everything that was hit into the DNF turf was either fielded or went for one of SIU's five total hits. The only close call was a ninth-inning bouncer to the middle for a ruled infield single.
With this shutout stint Brown has gone 20.2 innings without allowing an earned run. RHP Myles Gentry took care of a one-hit ninth inning to strike out one and pick up his second save of the season.
"It was an easy eight. I wasn't feeling too much fatigue out there," said Brown, who wasn't bothered by the ninth-inning replacement. "Nah, we have the best bullpen in college baseball. I knew they were going to shut it down."
SIU righthander Connor McFadden (1-1) was able to go 3.2 innings deep into a start, charged with all three Bulldog runs on four hits, as many walks and two strikeouts. McFadden didn't begin too badly as he retired the first five-faced and stranded CF C.T. Bradford after a two-out single in the second.
But going full-count to four Bulldogs in the third cost him dearly, as the first three of those were all walked. 3B Matt Britton and LF Jake Vickerson got their passings on one out; then a fly ball to centerfield by DH Alex Detz worked like a bunt to advance both. 1B Wes Rea watched a 3-2 offering bounce past him to load up the bases.
Finally with a fourth full count and everybody running 2B Brett Pirtle waited a bit longer to swing, but got enough contact to yank the grounder to the right side and just beyond his counterpart's glove. The single scored Britton and Vickerson for a 2-0 Bulldog lead.
It grew in the fourth after a leadoff out. RF Demarcus Henderson dumped a bunt in front of the mound and McFadden slipped covering, for an infield single. Henderson stole his way into scoring position. Britton looped a fly ball that fell far enough behind the shortstop for a base hit and Henderson got home without a throw. Catcher Matt Jones had Britton leading off first too far, but the throw behind him went wild and Britton got to third base. A walk of Vickerson had Dogs on opposing corners and brought in righthander Matt Murphy to strand both with a comebacker.
Brown did his part by rolling out after out, retiring a dozen Salukis in one stretch with nine on bouncers. "I felt good today, the infield played real well. I got a lot of ground balls and they were just eating it up." After a swinging strikeout of Ryan Rosthenhausl in the sixth Brown started for the dugout, before realizing it was only two downs. Returning, he gave up a single to order-topper Jake Welch to spoil the no-hitter. The Saluki was still stranded on a called strikeout.
SIU righthander Austin McPheron took over for the bottom of the sixth and was scratched for another infield single by Henderson. The runner was eventually stranded at third. In the seventh Lee Weld left a pair unscored after Rea singled and Pirtle was plunked.
Handed a save situation Gentry was scratched for a leadoff single in the ninth with the meat of SIU's order up. He got Jones to line-drive it right to Bradford for one out, fanned cleanup Saluki Ryan Casillas, and bounced out the designated hitter.
"It goes without saying, Preston was really impressive," Coach John Cohen said. "We came in really wanting a ton of ground balls and that's what he gave us. Britton did a nice job for us at third, and Pirtle had kind of a highlight-reel day defensively." The second-sacker did that, especially in the seventh when he went to the turf to rob Tyler Rolland and somehow flipped it far enough for Rea to snag ahead of the runner.
The shutout was the third of the season, something not done this early in a season since the 1982 team. Rea and Henderson each had two base hits out of the seven total. "We did what we needed to do, we defended it, we pitched it pretty well, and we got enough runs," Cohen said.
The Bulldogs now return to the road, but this time to face a SEC opponent. The ten-week conference campaign opens at Georgia, which was 10-6 going into their midweek set with Western Kentucky. The East Division Dogs are under new management after twelve-year coach Dave Perno was replaced by Scott Stricklin.
"It's a new phase of the season coming up this weekend, a really good Georgia club that scored a bunch of touchdowns today and I think won their ninth in a row. I think our kids are excited about this opportunity."
State will practice Thursday morning before their travel.