TERRE HAUTE —
Indiana State’s baseball game notes list game-by-game performance for each Sycamore batter. It lists them box score-style: at-bats, runs, hits and RBI. Since April 17, Rob Ort’s statistical columns indicate that he’s 9-for-45 at the plate — which breaks down to an even .200 batting average. Cause for concern? It would be, if the last number in Ort’s column hadn’t shown significant progress in the last week. Ort’s RBI total for the last three games reads — 3,1 and 3 — and all of those RBI came either in clutch situations for the Sycamores or via base hits. Ort is actually 4-for-12 in ISU’s last three games, including two home runs and those seven RBI. He might be heating up just in time as the Sycamores begin the stretch run of the regular season at 4 p.m. today with a three-game series at Southern Illinois. “Having Robby produce for us is so big. We’re built around the fact that he doesn’t slump,” ISU coach Rick Heller said. “If he gets hot, Jeremy [Lucas] will see more pitches. It’ll be better for all of us.” Ort hit a three-run home run in the eighth inning of a 6-3 victory against Wichita State last Saturday, providing insurance runs that turned out to be needed. Ort also hit a solo home run in ISU’s 8-2 loss to the Shockers on Sunday. On Tuesday, Ort drove in the game-winning runs with a seventh-inning three-run double as the Sycamores vanquished SIU-Edwardsville 5-1. Ort has learned that riding out the myriad hot streaks and slumps that are part of the deal in baseball. “You always have to stay positive. You have to act the same, feel the same. It’s tough to do. When slumps come, you have to take it in stride and wait it out,” Ort said. “When you’re struggling, you’re not seeing the ball well. But it’s coming back to me and I’m seeing it better lately.” ISU (37-12, 10-5) will need every bit of Ort’s offense as it plays its last road series of the regular season. The Sycamores are currently a half-game behind Missouri State in the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title chase. The Bears play host to Evansville this weekend. The Sycamores want to be in a position where they are either protecting or fighting for the MVC championship when Missouri State visits Bob Warn Field for the final regular season series starting May 17. “We’re going to shoot for two victories this weekend. We want to win the regular season championship,” Ort said. If the Salukis (25-23, 9-9) are to be handled, ISU will have to hold down one of the best offensive teams in the MVC. SIU is second in the conference with a MVC-only batting average of .286. The Salukis have hit 18 home runs in MVC games, five more than any other team. That power is generated by two of the best hitters in the MVC. First baseman Chris Serritella is hitting .389 with 11 home runs and 47 RBI. Sivertsen is hitting .288 with 10 home runs and 37 RBI. In conference games, Sivertsen (.676) and Serritella (.614) are 1-2 in slugging percentage. Four other Saluki regulars hit .300 or better. “In past years, they played for the three-run home run. They can definitely do that this year, but they can even run a little better than they have in the past,” Heller said. The challenge doesn’t end with the Salukis’ lineup. SIU Friday starter Cody Forsythe (3-3, 3.12) has been one of the best pitchers in the MVC in recent seasons. “He’s got a good angle, he pitches from the far left side of the rubber. All his pitches come in from right field into the right-handers. His slider comes in hard on the right-handers and away from the left-handers,” Heller said. ISU’s biggest impediment is injuries. Second baseman Jeff Miera won’t play with a sprained ankle. Left fielder Kyle Burnam left Sunday’s game against Wichita State with a tweaked hamstring and did not play against Edwardsville on Tuesday. Signs have been encouraging for Burnam, but as of Thursday, he had yet to sprint. Heller said he’d see how Burnam felt today to determine his status. “It’s touch-and-go. I’d surprise me if he started tomorrow. We might use him as a pinch-hitter, and then he can jog it out and we can pinch-run. I expect to use him, but how much? I don’t know,” Heller said. ISU did get one injured player back as outfielder Lucas Hileman returned to action on Tuesday. Hileman’s outfield range could mitigate the loss of Burnam if Hileman, who has a hamstring injury of his own, can play regularly.