TERRE HAUTE —
Indiana State’s baseball team hasn’t chalked up many bad days during a 36-12 campaign, but Sunday’s 8-2 loss to Wichita State in the series finale between the two teams would be an exception.
Things went wrong in ways both within and beyond the Sycamores’ control.
Uncharacteristic mistakes helped a fuel a four-run third inning for the Shockers that the Sycamores never recovered from. But a first inning hamstring injury suffered by left fielder Kyle Burnam put ISU in a pickle it didn’t anticipate.
“I tried to beat out a bunt and I lunged into first base and came up lame. I’ve never pulled a hamstring before. It feels like a muscle cramp in my leg that won’t go away,” Burnam said.
Burnam had to leave the game and ISU coach Rick Heller feared that the Marshall, Ill. senior — a rock both offensively and defensively for the Sycamores — might be limited or out as ISU begins its season stretch run.
“It didn’t look good. Once hamstrings go, it’s tough to come back,” Burnam said. “Kyle has never been injured. I’m worried, because he’s a guy who always plays. For him to come out of the game? It couldn’t be good.”
If Burnam is out for any period of time, or can only play designated hitter, ISU’s outfield depth is compromised. Lucas Hileman has missed eight games with a hamstring injury of his own. ISU will likely turn to Owen Conway and Casey McCurdy. Conway has been a reserve outfielder and McCurdy has been a designated hitter.
“The frustrating thing is we don’t have Hileman to fill in as the fourth outfielder. A lot of times [Hileman] plays center and [Landon] Curry is our swing guy. Owen is capable. He’ll be fine the more he plays. McCurdy is OK out there too. But it’s not our best defense,” Heller said.
Burnam’s was the second significant injury suffered by a Sycamore this weekend. On Saturday, infielder Jeff Miera injured his ankle as he slid into second base and is expected to be out for an undetermined period.
ISU had to shuffle its outfield with Burnam hurt, and it was one factor in WSU’s big third inning, but the problems started in the infield. With one out, ISU starting pitcher Ryan Torgerson bobbled the ball on a Josh Halbert tapper to the left of the mound and Halbert reached on an error.
With Burnam out, ISU had to move Rob Ort to left field and put Conway in right field. Erik Harbutz hit a gapper to right, and after getting a late jump, Conway dove in vain for the ball. The speedy Harbutz got an easy triple and Halbert scored to make it 1-0.
Dayne Parker followed with an RBI single to make it 2-0. Parker then reached second on a Torgerson balk and went to third on a Torgerson throwing error. Parker scored via a Casey Gillaspie sacrifice fly to make it 3-0. Don Lambert, who had walked, reached second on the throwing error and Micah Green drove Lambert in with a double as it was 4-0.
“Missing that ground ball started their rally. I had that balk … it just seemed like one thing after another happened. They got a bunch of freebie bases and then things spiraled. It was a rough inning,” Torgerson said.
WSU (29-22, 7-8) tacked on two more in the sixth inning thanks to two-run Taylor Doggett triple. ISU responded with two runs of its own in the bottom half of the inning thanks to a RBI double by Jeremy Lucas and a solo home run to right by Ort.
But that’s all ISU could muster against WSU starter A.J. Ladwig and reliever Albert Minnis.
“Our level of disappointment is in that we felt we gave it away today. We didn’t get beat. We haven’t done that very often this year. All of those runs were basically freebies until late in the game,” Heller said.
The loss dropped the Sycamores (36-12, 10-5) a half-game behind Missouri State (10-4 MVC) in the Missouri Valley Conference championship race.
The defeat also kept ISU from a coveted sweep. ISU has won nine series in a row, and has come out ahead in 11 straight weekends. But in the MVC, the Sycamores have yet to sweep any of the five conference foes they’ve played.
Two out of three ain’t bad, but the Sycamores would have liked to get the brooms out on Sunday.
“It was a big game today. We had a chance to move into first place by ourselves. We didn’t get it done. We’re never satisfied with taking two out of three,” Burnam said.
ISU plays its next five games on the road. The Sycamores play at Butler on Wednesday and will begin a three-game series at Southern Illinois on Friday afternoon.