Baseball beats Mavs in two of three

By Erik Hall

The Illinois baseball team won two of three games against Texas-Arlington over the weekend, earning the Illini their first win in a series of three games or more since going 3-1 against Michigan in April 2003.

“It’s always good to win,” said Illinois head baseball coach Itch Jones. “We can never lose sight that that team had played 16 games already, and they practice outside every day. We are outside for games and inside for practice.”

Illinois improved to 5-3-1 with the weekend’s success. Texas-Arlington dropped to 9-10 on the season.

The Mavs came into Friday’s game against Illinois on a roll after beating No. 9 Texas A&M; just three days earlier. Texas-Arlington continued their success Friday with a 5-1 win against the Illini.

“We never feel good after a loss,” said junior outfielder Trevor Huisinga. “We weren’t too happy about it. Going into Saturday, it’s a whole new day.”

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The Illini responded by winning Saturday’s game 4-2 and then won in 11 innings Sunday 3-2.

“I was impressed with them (the Illini) in the game we lost, but we just didn’t get some clutch hits,” Jones said. “They came back the next two games and made clutch hits and clutch plays to win the next two.”

Before this weekend, it had been six years since Illinois lost the first game of a series and responded to win the match up. The last comeback series came against Texas-San Antonio in Illinois’ opening weekend of the 1999 season.

“I think our players are making progress,” Jones said. “Now that they have been outside for a few weeks they looked comfortable and knew what we were doing, and the pitching we faced this weekend was the best pitching that we have faced yet.”

Illinois senior right-hander Jimmy Conroy countered his opponents with dominance Saturday. Conroy pitched the first seven innings and allowed only one run and seven hits.

“I’m feeling pretty confident and comfortable with myself right now,” Conroy said. “The team we faced this weekend was aggressive, and I wanted to come back with some aggressiveness.”

Conroy struck out five batters and allowed only one extra-base hit. Conroy improved his record to 2-1.

The Illini got an equally strong performance from junior right-hander Matt Whitmore. Sunday was Whitmore’s first career start for Illinois. The transfer from John A. Logan Community College allowed only one run in 6.1 innings.

“I was very pleased with our pitching,” Jones said. “(Associate head coach) Danny (Hartleb) has done a good job with the pitchers.”

Huisinga and senior first baseman Dusty Bensko both finished with six hits over the weekend to lead the Illini offensively.

Illinois earned the series win with only three extra-base hits. Huisinga and senior third baseman Chad Frk each had a double Friday. Bensko hit a solo home run Sunday.

One of Huisinga’s hits Sunday earned him the game-winning RBI in the top of the 11th inning. The two-out, two-strike single scored junior left fielder Drew Davidson from third base.

“I was just looking to get a base hit,” Huisinga said. “Anything but a base hit wouldn’t get the job done. It didn’t even matter if it was an error and we scored, as long as Drew crossed the plate.”

Had Huisinga failed to make contact on the swing, the Illini would have left a runner on base for the fifth-consecutive inning. Instead, the diminutive 5-foot-7-inch Huisinga came through with a demonstrative hit to earn the series win.

“We did well as a team and got the job done,” Huisinga said. “It’s good to have that momentum. We struggled on Friday and came back and did the job when we needed to do it.”

Speaking Volumes

Illinois baseball play-by-play announcer Dave Loane received recognition Monday for his broadcast work doing women’s basketball.

The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association announced that they will honor Loane with the Mel Greenberg Media Award.

“When something like this happens you get awfully excited,” Loane said. “I was very surprised and excited, and I’m very honored. There are a lot of great prior winners, and I’m proud to be on that list.”

Among the previous winners is Robin Roberts of ABC and ESPN.

Illinois women’s basketball coach Theresa Grentz nominated Loane for the award. He will receive the award Tuesday, April 5.

This is Loane’s 17th season broadcasting games for WDWS-AM. Along with baseball and women’s basketball, Loane does play-by-play for Illinois volleyball.

“I’m very proud and it’s been great to be associated with Illinois women’s basketball for so long,” Loane said. “It’s even greater to be recognized for it.”