Illinois baseball brings home two victories at Al Ogletree Classic

By Jason Grodsky

It’s amazing how much difference a week of practice can make.

After being swept in its first three-game series of the season last weekend, the Illinois baseball team bounced back to capture its first wins of the season at the Al Ogletree Classic in Edinburg, Texas. The Illini went 2-1 over the weekend to improve their record to 2-4, looking much better in the field and coming up on the right end of a close game in the weekend finale.

“We did a pretty good job this weekend,” sophomore center fielder Kyle Hudson said. “In the two games we won we were able to put a lot of things together and were finally able to score some runs, which we weren’t able to do last week.”

The Illini were backed by much-improved pitching in the first two games of the weekend. Illinois busted out of the gate on Friday with a 14-5 thumping of Sam Houston State to earn the Illini and sophomore starting pitcher Scott Shaw his first win of the year. Shaw rebounded nicely after being pounded in his first start of the year, going five innings and giving up just two runs on four hits while striking out four batters.

On Saturday night, though, the Illini were held in check by Texas Pan-American freshman starting pitcher Josh Wymer on Saturday. Wymer pitched eight innings for the Broncs, giving up just two earned runs on nine hits to beat the Illini 5-3. Sophomore pitcher Mike Stankiewicz took the loss for the Illini after throwing six solid innings and giving up only four runs on six hits while striking out four.

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“Our pitching staff last weekend may have been a little nervous but we responded really well this weekend,” senior catcher Lars Davis said. “Our pitchers looked a lot more confident and calmer on the mound and as a whole we were much improved.”

Illinois sent sophomore starting pitcher Aaron Martin to the mound for his first start of the season on Sunday against Stephen F. Austin University.

The Illini helped Martin out on the mound by scoring twice with two outs in the second inning with back-to-back singles by freshman third baseman Brandon Wikoff and senior shortstop Shawn Roof.

The Lumberjacks struck back in the bottom of the fourth inning with a two-run home run by junior right fielder Jared Pitts to knot the game at 2-2, and then took the lead in the fifth inning by taking advantage of two errors by the Illini.

After each team tacked on another run in the sixth inning to make the score 4-3, the Illini turned up the power in the final three innings, exploding for eight runs.

Hudson led the charge with four RBIs, both on two-run singles, while Davis put the game out of reach in the ninth with a two-run triple to send the Orange and Blue home with a 11-6 win.

“It was a really tough loss to take on Saturday but we came out with a great short-term memory and bounced back well,” Davis said. “Our hitting was contagious and when guys are going well everybody starts swinging the bats well.”

Hudson and Davis led the Illini in the weekend’s finale, combining for seven of the Illini’s 16 hits, and driving in a total of six runs while scoring three of their own. Roof also made history for the Illini by tying the school’s record for stolen bases in a game with four.

On the weekend as a whole, Davis finished with five runs scored and five RBIs on 8-of-15 hitting, while Hudson ended with four runs scored and five RBIs on 8-of-12 hitting.

“We have a great offensive team,” Hudson said. “It is just a matter of us putting everything together. Now going into next week we’re going to be pretty confident.”