Baseball drops first three games of season

By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois baseball team came only three outs away from picking up its first win of the 2006 season Sunday against Western Carolina University, but the Illini ended up falling just short in their attempt.

After losing its first two games 6-3 and 4-2 to Stetson University and the University of South Florida at the season-opening Stetson Invitational in DeLand, Fla., the Illini headed into their final game of the weekend hoping to tally their first win of the season against the Catamounts.

But the Illini came out on the short end of the stick, dropping the game to the Catamounts 14-13 in the bottom of the ninth inning.

“It’s always tough to take a loss,” sophomore catcher Lars Davis said. “We were all really excited going into the last inning with the lead, but having it slip away was very heartbreaking.”

While the Illini bats had been held in check in Friday and Saturday’s games they came alive Sunday, scoring 10 runs in the first six innings of play and 13 by the time it was all said and done.

But for every good inning the Illini put together at the plate, the Catamounts had an answer.

The Illini led by two runs going into the bottom of the ninth inning, but failed to retire a single Western Carolina batter and were charged with two crucial errors that allowed the game’s tying and winning runs to score.

“I thought our offense came out and did a great job,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “We continued to put runs up on the board the entire game. But I was disappointed we let it get away. We walked a lot of men, and in order to play at a high level we can’t do that.”

The weekend was highlighted by Davis and junior third baseman Mike Rohde. Davis, who was named a top newcomer in the Big Ten by Baseball America, went 7-for-11 at the plate and drove in six runs, while Rohde finished the weekend 6-for-12 and scored five runs for the Illini.

Illinois’ standout freshman football receiver Kyle Hudson also had a good showing in his first games as a centerfielder for the Illini. Hudson went 4-for-8 in two games and was two-for-two stealing bases.

“I was pleased with a lot of guys,” Hartleb said. “We only had one player that held down a position last year defensively, so everyone is basically playing somewhere new and that’s not always easy. As we move along and they gain experience, we’ll start making more and more plays and have a solid team.”

Even though the team dropped all three games on the weekend, Hartleb and the Illini are still staying positive and realize there is plenty of time to get better over the course of the season.

“There were a lot of positives,” Hartleb said. “Each day there was one part of the team play that let down where we didn’t have good performances. But if you look at things as a whole, guys showed that they were going to be able to help us in the long haul.”

With the first weekend of play out of the way the Illini will return home for a week of practice before heading back to Florida next weekend to take on South Florida again in a three-game set.

“We got a great learning experience out of all three games even though they were losses,” Davis said. “We are just going to need to look forward to next weekend against South Florida and take what we can from this weekend and apply it there.”