Illinois’ first series swept in Louisiana

By Jason Grodsky

Illinois baseball went down south to Louisiana to open its 2007 season this weekend, but unfortunately, Louisana didn’t grant them any Southern hospitality.

The Illini were swept in their first series of the season, losing 13-5, 7-6 and 10-7 to the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns. The sweep marks the second-straight season in which the Illini came out of their first weekend of play without a win.

“There were some things we did well and there were bright spots throughout the weekend, but overall we’re disappointed,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “Anytime you take the field you want to win games, so the final outcomes were disappointing to us.”

The Illini found themselves down early in the season opener on Friday night. The Cajuns jumped on the Illini for six runs in the second inning, forcing Hartleb to pull sophomore starting pitcher Scott Shaw and insert fellow sophomore Aaron Martin.

Martin, however, didn’t fare much better than Shaw. In his three innings of relief, Martin gave up nine hits and six runs. By the ninth inning, the Illini found themselves trailing 13-0.

Illinois finally got on the board when freshman third baseman Brandon Wikoff drove in two runs with a bases-loaded single. The Illini got two more runs when the Cajuns committed a throwing error and one more run on a sacrifice fly by freshman outfielder Craig Lutes to cut the lead to 13-5, but the Illini rally would end there, as the Illini dropped their third-straight season opener.

“We never quit,” Wikoff said. “We were just continuing to battle and trying and score runs no matter what the score was. Even though we came up short, we never gave up.”

Illinois looked as if it was bouncing back in game two of the series on Saturday after the Illini jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning, courtesy of four Illini singles.

The Cajuns added two runs in the bottom of the first inning, but the Illini responded with a run in the second inning when junior outfielder Daniel Webb doubled and scored on freshman designated hitter Mike Giller’s single up the middle.

Sophomore starting pitcher Mike Stankiewicz held the Cajuns to just two runs through the first five innings, but was touched up for three runs in the sixth inning to allow the Cajuns to pull within a run at 6-5.

Freshman pitcher Kevin Mason replaced Stankiewicz in the seventh, but gave up the tying run after retiring the first two batters of the inning. With the game tied in the ninth, the Cajuns got a lead-off walk and after advancing to third on a sacrifice bunt and a stolen base, Cajun’s junior centerfielder Nolan Gisclair drove home the winning run with a single through the left side.

“We felt we really had a shot to pull out a win,” Giller said. “But we just let them back into the game. Now we just have to keep working and hopefully we can pull out some wins next weekend.”

In the series finale on Sunday, sophomore starting pitcher Ben Reeser was pounded for eight runs on seven hits in the first three innings.

Despite a five-run third inning highlighted by senior first baseman Mike Rhode’s two run triple, the Illini were unable to keep the Cajuns at bay, falling 10-7.

Wikoff and Giller led the Illini over the entire weekend. The two freshmen combined for nine hits, six runs and five RBIs in their first weekend of play wearing orange and blue.

“We learned a lot this weekend,” Wikoff said. “Now we have some things to build on, good and bad. This weekend really showed that we still need to keep working to achieve our goals.”