Men get even with Bulls

Illinois pitcher Brian Blomquist throws against Ohio State at Illinois field on Friday, April 1, 2005. Illinois defeated Ohio State, 7-1. Daily Illini File Photo

Illinois pitcher Brian Blomquist throws against Ohio State at Illinois field on Friday, April 1, 2005. Illinois defeated Ohio State, 7-1. Daily Illini File Photo

By Jason Grodsky

It may have taken a little longer than the Illinois baseball team would have liked, but after its second weekend of play the Illini picked up its first victories of the season with a sweep of South Florida.

Illinois’ second trip to Florida proved to be a much more enjoyable stay than its first. The Illini defeated the Bulls 5-1, 7-3 and 7-6 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Tampa, Fla., and in the process avenged their 4-2 loss to South Florida the previous weekend.

The Illini (3-3) not only secured their first victories of the season but they also earned coach Dan Hartleb his first wins as Illini head coach.

“After you lose your first three you’re wondering if you are ever going to get the win,” Hartleb said. “I was pleased with the way we rebounded from last weekend. To have the opportunity to be the head coach and get the first win, it’s special, especially with this group of guys who play hard.”

Illinois’ ace starting pitcher, senior Brian Bloomquist, took the ball for game one of the weekend on Friday night and picked up his first win of the year. Bloomquist pitched six scoreless innings of work for the Illini, giving up only four hits while striking out three and maintained his 0.00 ERA.

His great performance was backed by the Illini’s trio from Mattoon, Ill. The trio of junior leftfielder Ryan Snowden, sophomore second baseman Ryan Hastings, and freshman centerfielder Kyle Hudson combined for six of the Illini’s ten hits along with three runs and two RBI’s to lead the team to a 5-1 win and its first win of the year.

“Our pitchers set the tempo early,” sophomore catcher Lars Davis said. “They got on the mound and threw the pitches they needed to throw to get outs. When they were working fast and getting outs it kept the entire team in the games.”

Junior starting pitcher Jake Toohey took the hill for the Illini on Saturday in search of redemption for his loss against the Bulls in his first outing exactly one week earlier. Toohey followed the steps of Bloomquist, pitching six good innings and allowing three runs on seven hits while striking out four.

But Toohey’s performance on the mound was outshined by Davis. Davis continued his hot start to the season with a 4-for-5 day at the plate with two runs scored to lead the Illini to a 7-3 win.

“I’m just trying to do my job with the pitches that I’m given,” Davis said. “Everybody stepped up this weekend and got the job done when they needed to and that’s what contributed to our success.”

The Illini were once again backed by a solid starting pitching performance in the finale of the series. Freshman right-hander Scott Shaw threw five scoreless innings, giving up four hits and striking out two batters for the Illini.

With the game tied at three going into the eighth-inning, the Illini exploded for four runs on four hits, with the big blow coming on a bases loaded two-run single by senior designated hitter Dave Schultz. Junior third baseman Shawn Roof followed with his second hit of the day, scoring Hudson and giving the Illini a comfortable 7-3 lead.

South Florida made things interesting in the bottom of the ninth-inning, loading the bases and scoring three times to pull within one of the Illini, but junior reliever Brian Long ended the Bulls rally by getting South Florida’s junior second baseman Nick Cardieri to fly out, giving Illinois its third straight win.

The main difference this weekend for the Illini was their performance in the field. After committing nine errors in its first three games the Illini limited its mistakes against the Bulls, committing only three errors in its three wins.

“We cut down our errors and that was the major factor this weekend,” Hartleb said. “Last weekend we had a lot of costly errors that led to runs. After last weekend we may have questioned if we were capable of winning, but after getting the wins they believe they can win.”

With the sweep the Illini improved to 4-3 all-time against South Florida. The next stop for the Illini will be in San Antonio, Tex. for the Collegiate Baseball Classic, in which Illinois will face Louisiana-Lafayette, Texas-San Antonio, Notre Dame and 29th-ranked Texas A&M.;

“This weekend was a huge momentum swing for us,” Bloomquist said. “We have a lot of tough teams coming up in Texas next weekend so next week we have to be ready to come out and compete again.”