EUREKA – With the sun going down in a hurry, the Eureka baseball team completed their Senior Day celebration with a 15-5 victory in seven innings against Greenville on Saturday.
The day after the Red Devils recorded their first win over the Panthers since 2008, the maroon and gold came out on top again, snagging a series split – and the team's first run-rule win over a St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opponent in two years.
Senior Jared Smith (Henry, Ill./Henry-Senachwine) recorded his first win as a Red Devil. The southpaw threw all seven innings and limited the Panthers to four earned runs on seven hits and zero walks. He also had four strikeouts.
"I have five pitches and they were all working," Smith said. "Senior night, it was special, so I just wanted to go out there and throw as much as I could as long as I could, and I knew everyone around me had my back."
The Red Devils kept it clean in the field, only committing one error in the series finale. They were outstanding at the plate, though. Eureka tallied a season-high 18 hits with two home runs, a triple and a double, and had six players record multi-hit games.
Braden Cross (Clinton, Ill./Clinton) went 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs. Dylan Hill (Steeleville, Ill./Steeleville) went 3-for-4 with two RBIs. Both are freshmen. Another freshmen, Colton Reed (Shelbyville, Ill./Shelbyville), went 3-for-5 with a triple – and he's a pitcher who only had had three at-bats on the season prior to the game.
Senior center fielder Kyle Christman (Peru, Ill./La Salle-Peru) added two hits and scored a run in his last home game at Henry Sand Field. Kelton O'Grady (Camp Verde, Arizona/Camp Verde) went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a walk as the No. 9 batter.
Perhaps the most unlikely player to record a pair of hits was senior pitcher Greg Cluskey (East Peoria, Ill./Metamora). He singled and smashed a two-run blast to right field for his first home run in 13 career at-bats over four years.
"It's every pitcher's dream to go in there and get a big one," Cluskey said. "Right off the bat, I knew it felt good. Going opposite field, I wasn't sure it was gonna go, but then it did and I was ecstatic."
O'Grady put the home team on the board in the second inning with an RBI single that scored Austin Davis (Eureka, Ill./Eureka) in the second to tie the game at 1-1. And after Greenville scored again in the second, Hill singled to drive in Christman and tie it up at 2-2.
Greenville would continue the trend of scoring one run an inning for the rest of the way, but EC broke its pattern in the fourth after O'Grady scored on a throwing error and Stone singled to drive him in and give EC a 4-3 edge.
Greenville briefly tied it in the fifth, then the Red Devils came alive with a long nine-run rally. It featured three pitching changes, nine Eureka hits and one Greenville error.
Cluskey started it off with a leadoff single on a bunt, then Cross went yard for a two-run slam. Later, Reed tripled and O'Grady singled to drive in a run.
That made it 8-4. Two batters later, Barney singled to right to drive in two more, then Cluskey delivered his shot to the opposite field for another two-run bomb.
"Of course it made my night," Cluskey said, "especially since I had a tough early afternoon with senior night pitching. I didn't have my best outing, but I was glad I could have my guys' backs and make an impact in Game 2. It was just a blast."
A double by Cross and a pitching change later, Hill singled to bring home the ninth and final run of the inning.
By the time Smith came back on the mound after the never-ending rally, it had been a long time since he left.
"When I came back out there, my arm was a little tired," he said, "but I just knew that my adrenaline was going to get me through it."
He gave up a leadoff home run on the first pitch after the break, but then struck out the next batter and sat down the next two with a fly-out and a groundout. Then, in the seventh, he notched two strikeouts and retired the side.
"I love the team I'm on," Smith said after the win. "I love the guys. It's been a grind, but it's all been worth it."
In the bottom half, Eureka clinched the rule-rule victory before the darkness forced the game to be suspended. Swaim drove in a run on a groundout and Reed singled to first to plate the game-ending score.
"It feels good," Cluskey added. "I feel like we definitely could've gotten two (wins), but Jared pitched his pants off and it was awesome to watch. I'm happy, I'm satisfied and I'm looking forward to the end of the season."
Game 1: Greenville 13, Eureka 11
After an hour-plus rain delay, Greenville held on in a close one that could've went either way.
The Panthers tallied four runs off Cluskey in the first inning. Eureka tied it up with four of their own on two-run singles by Jimmy Peterson (Bloomington, Ill./Homeschooled) and Barney, but then the visitors answered with a seven-run surge in the third.
Eureka came back with a five-run third that featured six hits, and both teams scored two in the fourth, making it 13-11. Neither team manufactured a run in the fifth, sixth or seventh.
O'Grady led off the seventh with a single, but then Greenville got out of it on a controversial strikeout of Peterson and a close double play.
Eureka notched 15 hits, with Peterson, Christman, Cross, Hill, Swaim and O'Grady all notching two apiece. O'Grady, a freshman, recorded his first career double in the third inning and had a sac fly RBI in the fourth.
Barney pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief at the end of the game.