OXFORD -- Spring break is coming at a good time for Jacksonville State’s baseball team.
Not only do the Gamecocks not have class for a week, they won’t have another game until Friday at Southern Illinois.
They’ll have a chance to shake off the effects of a virus that’s run through the team. They’ll also have a chance to enjoy two good weekend wins. After losing the first four games of the Ohio Valley Conference season, JSU beat Eastern Illinois 6-3 on Saturday and 6-4 in 11 innings Sunday at Oxford’s Choccolocco Park.
“We needed that,” JSU coach Jim Case said after the Sunday win, which improved his team to 10-9, including 2-4 in the league.
“Before the game, I told them it’s not the end of the world but we need to get on a roll,” Case added. “Down 0-4, you tend to try too hard. Too much effort looks like a lack of effort, and with these guys, we never have to worry about the effort.”
On Sunday, JSU led 6-1 after three innings before Eastern Illinois (2-16, 1-2 OVC) charged back with four innings in the sixth inning and a tying run in the ninth.
Still, having to play two extra innings allowed a pair of Gamecocks to shine.
First, relief pitcher Justin Hoyt worked four innings to finish the game. He struck out a career-high nine batters and allowed only one hit -- a double to Nicholas McCormick to start the top of the ninth. McCormick eventually came around to score on an error, but that didn’t slow down Hoyt.
He was so efficient in striking out EIU hitters that he needed only 49 pitches to get through his four innings.
“I’ve been sick this week, and I’m still a little stuffed up,” he said. “But I felt good today. I haven’t pitched all week, so I was fresh.”
Hoyt (2-0) usually dominates with his fastball, but this time, he did it with his curveball.
“His breaking ball was the difference,” Case said. “His fastball is always good, but his breaking ball was really good today.”
Case added that if the game hadn’t ended in the bottom of the 11th, Hoyt would’ve come out.
“It’s a long year,” Case said. “He hadn’t pitched that long except for a couple of times in the fall when we were experimenting. So, he was coming out.”
Hoyt said he was ready to pitch more, if needed, but designated hitter Trent Simpson made sure it never came to that.
Simpson’s single off EIU reliever Michael Starcevich drove home Nolan Greckel with one out to win the game. Before that, Simpson had been 0-for-5.
“It was a tough day offensively,” Simpson said, “but I had a gut feeling that it would come back around.”
Greckel began the inning with a walk, the fourth time Sunday he reached base. He also had three hits. Clayton Daniel followed with a single to move Greckel to third base.
EIU brought in Starcevich on the mound for Dustin Wilson. In addition, the Panthers moved center fielder Joseph Duncan to serve as a fifth infielder.
“I’ve never seen that before,” Simpson said.
EIU used that alignment in the ninth when JSU had a runner on third and one out. At that point, Simpson struck out, and Josh Bobo flied out to end the inning.
This time, Simpson singled through the small hole between the shortstop, Dane Toppel, and Duncan.
“We had the scouting report in the dugout (for Starcevich),” Simpson said. “We knew he likes to throw a breaking ball, and I was just looking for him to elevate a breaking ball.”
Missing from the lineup were outfielder Chase Robinson (swollen knee after running into the brick bullpen wall Saturday) and shortstop Taylor Hawthorne (illness). In addition, Hoyt, catcher Hayden White and Case himself were getting over a virus as well.
“With the break, we’ve got a chance to get healthy,” Case said.