Baseball looks forward to home opener against Sycamores

By Jason Grodsky

Fifteen games into the 2007 campaign, the Illinois baseball team will finally play its first home game of the season on Tuesday night.

The Illini will take their cuts at Illinois Field for the first time this season against the Sycamores of Indiana State at 6 p.m. The Illini have won their last two home openers, beating Purdue 9-7 in their Big Ten opener last season and Indiana State 8-4 in 2005.

“The field is looking great and the weather had been holding up for us so we’re excited to be able to get out on our home field,” junior catcher Lars Davis said. “It will be good to finally see our home crowd and hopefully we’ll get a good amount of fans to come out and hopefully we’ll pull out a victory.”

Illinois (7-8) comes into its home opener riding a five-game winning streak after finishing 5-1 on its spring break trip in Bradenton, Fla.

At the plate the Illini come into the game leading the Big Ten in hitting with a .337 team batting average. Davis heads the offense with a Big Ten-leading batting average of .492, and is joined by sophomore outfielder Kyle Hudson as the only two Illini to hit over .400 this season. Hudson is second on the team and third in the Big Ten with a .462 batting average, while five other Illini who have played in 10 or more games are batting over .300.

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But while the Illini lead the Big Ten in offense, they are near the bottom of the conference in pitching. The Illini’s team ERA is 6.72 and the pitching staff is allowing opposing batters to hit .335 this season.

The Illini will hope to bring those numbers down when they send sophomore right-hander Aaron Martin to the mound tonight for his third start of the season. Martin had a career day in his last outing, tossing eight shutout innings against Massachusetts en route to his first win of the season.

Martin will look to contain a Sycamores offense that is averaging nearly five-and-a-half runs per game and have hit a total of 10 home runs this season.

“I just want to go out and try to build off my last start,” Martin said. “Hopefully I can get in a rhythm and give my offense a chance to go score runs. To have the chance to go out and win the home opener is a big deal.”

The Sycamores are led by junior outfielder Chris Schmidt who is leading Indiana State in hitting with a .362 average and senior infielder Ryan Bond who has a team high 16 RBIs.

Schmidt and Bond will look to get revenge on the Illini from last season. Illinois beat Indiana State 4-2 last season behind then freshman starting pitcher Tanner Roark, who hurled five scoreless innings and struck out five en route to his first career win as an Illini.

“Now that we got some wins under our belt guys have started to relax,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “We’re just looking forward to getting off to a good start on our own field and playing in front of our home crowd.”