Baseball heads south for three-game series



By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois baseball team will head back to Texas for the second consecutive weekend in search of similar results from last week’s trip.

Coming off their first two victories of the season, the Illini (2-4) will make their way to Arlington, Texas, to square off against the University of Texas-Arlington Mavericks in a three-game series starting Friday night.

If last weekend’s performance in the Al Ogletree Classic Tournament was a foreshadowing of things to come from the Illini, the team will be in good shape.

The Illini won the tournament title last weekend, finishing tied with Sam Houston State with a 2-1 record and claiming the crown thanks to their 14-5 win over the Bearkats in the round-robin tournament.

Following the tournament, five Illini players were recognized on the Al Ogletree Classic All-Tournament Team.

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Seniors catcher Lars Davis, senior shortstop Shawn Roof, sophomore centerfielder Kyle Hudson, sophomore pitcher Scott Shaw and freshman third baseman Brandon Wikoff all earned mention on the 14-player squad.

“These were guys who weren’t all-conference players, but they really showed they are developing into solid players,” head coach Dan Hartleb said.

Hudson led the team in hitting, batting .667 with five RBIs and four runs in three games last week while tallying an on-base percentage of .714. Davis wasn’t far behind Hudson, hitting .533 with two triples, five RBIs and five runs.

The most impressive feat displayed by the Illini last weekend, however, came from their feet. The Illini stole ten bases last weekend on 12 attempts. Roof led the way for the Illini, tying a school record with four stolen bases in Illinois’ 11-6 win on Sunday over Stephen F. Austin.

“Running really opens up our offense,” Roof said. “Anytime you can get the pitchers worried about runners, they start leaving balls down the middle for the hitters to hit, and you also start to get the infielders out of position. It just opens up the field for the hitters.”

Illinois base running sparked the Illini’s offense, helping them to score an average of just more than nine runs per game.

The Illini will look to do much of the same against the Mavericks this weekend. In 15 games this season Texas-Arlington has allowed 38 stolen bases and have only caught attempted stealers six times.

“With our speed we will have a chance to create havoc on their defense,” Hartleb said. “We’re going to try to put pressure on them this weekend and on opposing defenses the rest of the year.”

Texas-Arlington enters this weekend with a 6-9 record but have gone up against some of the country’s top teams, including Texas, Texas A&M;, Nebraska and Oklahoma State. The Mavericks are coming off their worst loss of the season, a 19-1 pounding at the hands of Oklahoma State on Tuesday.

“They’ve played a lot of good teams, but we have too,” Roof said. “This weekend will show us where we stand at this point in the season.”