After piling on 26 runs on 25 hits on Saturday, the ULM baseball team needed just four solo home runs on Sunday to defeat Illinois State and take the weekend series with a 4-2 win at Warhawk Field.
ULM still had 12 hits on the final day of the series, but only four of the 12 hits mattered. ULM scored all four of its runs on solo homers across the fourth and fifth innings. Three Warhawk pitchers made the homers stand up, as ULM bounced back from a Friday night loss to win on Saturday and Sunday and take the series, 2-1, over the Redbirds.
“Winning series is extremely important for this program and for these guys to learn how to do it,” ULM head coach Michael Federico said. “We’ve got a lot of returning players that know what it’s like to do it, because we did it a few times last year. To understand and know that you’re going to lose sometimes, it’s different days, it is what it is. We’ve got to be able to fight through some things, and sometimes you lose on Friday night. You’ve got to find a way to respond on Saturday, and more importantly, win a series.”
The Warhawks had the leadoff hitters on base in the first and second innings, but base running mistakes cost ULM. Trace Henry was picked off first base following his leadoff single in the first inning, while Ryan Humeniuk was picked off following his leadoff single in the second inning.
“We got some leadoff guys on and then made some base running mistakes,” Federico said. “But, at the same time, we have to. We have to take chances. I don’t want our guys to not be aggressive on the bases. We had 10 (stolen bases) for the weekend and that’s impressive. We’ve got to take some chances sometimes with all that.”
Illinois State struck first in the top of the third. A two-out, two-base error put Braedon Blackford on second base. Aidan Huggins followed with a single to right field, scoring Blackford for the 1-0 lead.
ULM answered in the bottom of the fourth inning. Danny DeSimone led off the inning with his fourth home run of the year, hitting a towering shot up into the stiff south wind blowing out to left field. On the very next pitch, Humeniuk gave ULM the lead with a solo home run to right-center field, putting the Warhawks up 2-1. After Wiley Cleland lined out to right, Grant Schulz hit a line drive home run that barely cleared the left field wall for a 3-1 lead.
The Warhawks hit their fourth homer of the game in the bottom of the fifth when Mason Holt hit a leadoff homer for the 4-1 lead.
The ULM pitching staff had the game in cruise control from there. Freshman Nicholas Judice picked up his first career win in his first collegiate start, tossing four innings, allowing an unearned run on two hits with four walks and three strikeouts. Judice walked two batters in the first inning, but a double play ended the Redbird threat, and allowed Judice to settle in from there.
“I saw some nerves early from the young guy,” Federico said. “At the same time, he’s a competitor. He made some adjustments in between the first and the second inning. We talked about a few things. I thought he went out there and kind of settled in a little bit. Getting the double play was huge from their four-hole hitter. I was impressed with him in the second, third and fourth innings. The first inning was a little shaky. I’m proud of Nicholas and where he’s at. I’m expecting big things from him.”
Senior Brock Figueroa followed Judice on the mound and tossed four shutout innings, giving up just two hits and a walk while striking out four. Figueroa allowed a pair of base runners on a single and a walk in the fifth inning, but picked up three strikeouts to escape the frame. He allowed a leadoff double to Illinois State’s Jordan Libman in the eighth inning, but picked up two more strikeouts and a fly out to avoid giving up a run.
“He spun the baseball really well,” Federico said. “They’re an aggressive fastball hitting team. He spun his slider and curveball really well. I thought he got ahead in counts extremely well. (Catcher Logan) Wurm and him were on a pretty good rhythm and everything. After the seventh, I was going to take him out. Wurm talked me into sending him back out there for the eighth, and I was proud that he fought through the leadoff double and was able to hang a zero.”
Landon Longsworth gave up a leadoff homer in the top of the ninth, but then retired the next three hitters to earn his third save of the season.
Holt had three hits on the day to lead Warhawk hitters, including his solo homer. Humeniuk added two hits with a homer, while Schulz had two hits including a solo homer.
Libman was 2-for-2 with a double and two walks to pace Illinois State.