Sycamores spoil Illini’s home opener



By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois baseball team opened the gates at Illinois Field for the first time this season, hosting the Sycamores of Indiana State. But the Illini were unable to pull out a win in front of the home crowd.

The Illini had won their last two home openers and were 18-4 in home openers since 1985 but were unable to solve Indiana State junior starting pitcher Josh Varno, who shut out the Illini for the first time this season. Illinois senior right fielder Ryan Snowden led the Illini going 3-for-4 and extended his team-high hitting streak to 14 games, but it wasn’t enough as the Illini fell 4-0.

“We didn’t do a good job of taking the ball the other way,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “We need to change our approach a little bit and make adjustments if we’re going to win.”

Coming off a career performance on the mound in his last outing in Bradenton, Fla. Illini sophomore starting pitcher Aaron Martin got off to somewhat of a shaky start in the first inning, allowing the first two batters of the game to reach base before retiring the next three and escaping with just one run scored against.

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The Sycamores (10-10) threatened again in the second inning but a great one-bounce throw to home plate by senior left fielder Ryan Snowden following a fly-out nailed Indiana State freshman right fielder Nick Ciolli at the plate to end the inning.

Martin settled into a groove after giving up a RBI double to Sycamore senior left fielder Josh Abercrombie in the third inning, giving up just one hit over the next three innings before being replaced by senior relief pitcher Omar Kadir in the seventh inning.

“I thought our pitchers did a good enough job to win,” Hartleb said. “Aaron started out a little rough but he settled down and got us deep enough into the game to the point where he should’ve gotten the win.”

Despite a good performance on the hill by Martin, he was out-dueled by Varno, who gave the Illini fits all game. The left-hander scattered eight hits in seven and two-thirds innings while striking out four in his first start of the season.

“Their pitcher did a great job of keeping the ball down and we just didn’t adjust” Snowden said. “But sometimes you just have to tip your hat to a pitcher, and theirs did a good job.”

Illinois’ (7-9) best threat to score came in the bottom of the eighth inning when the Illini loaded the bases with two outs, but a bang-bang play at first base on a ground ball hit by senior shortstop Shawn Roof went the Sycamores way.

Indiana State junior third baseman Brett Siegmund put the Illini away in the top of the ninth inning with his first home run of the season, taking Illini senior relief pitcher Jake Toohey deep over the left field wall to give the Sycamores a 4-0 lead.

“It was fun to come out and play in front of the crowd we had,” Hartleb said. “Hopefully the fans will continue to come out like they did and we can get on a winning track and bring them some exciting baseball for them to watch.”